The Last Shall be First: Finding Meaning in the Martial Arts

Kung Fu Tea

A foreign martial arts teacher practices at Wudang. Source:

Barnum’s Daughter

I was recently watching the news when I saw a brief segment on “the last” Japanese swordsmith.  The whole things is a little overwrought as there are lots of individuals making swords in Japan today, and (multiple) government offices in place to make sure that they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. While alarmist, I am no longer surprised by this sort of rhetoric. For better or worse, it has become a defining feature of the modern martial arts and all of the other cultural practices that are associated with them. I usually just brush it off. Yet it can be jarring to those who have less experience with it.

By any metric Heather* is a pretty worldly individual.  A Hollywood veteran and longtime producer of reality TV shows (touching on everything from home improvement to…

View original post 3,798 more words


Performance Ethnography and the Martial Arts Studies Reader — Kung Fu Tea

As the indomitable Professor Farnsworth would say, good news everyone! The long anticipated Martial Arts Studies Reader (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018) is now shipping. Weighing in at 244 pages, and featuring articles by over a dozen of the most respected names in the field, this volume is sure to be referenced for years to […]

via Performance Ethnography and the Martial Arts Studies Reader — Kung Fu Tea

The Legendary Iron Palm

by Phillip Starr

The legendary “iron palm” (called “tieh-shou” in Chinese, which literally means “iron hand”) is often very different from what many people think it is. Masutatsu Oyama, founder of the Kyokushin style of Japanese karate, had very heavily calloused hands with which he would split 25 lb. stones, paving bricks (the old kind that were used to “pave some old streets and they’re as hard as iron), and other such objects, had “conditioned hands” and feet, but not the ancient “iron palm.” The same thing holds true for Master Higashionna of Goju-ryu karate in Okinawa. He has heavily conditioned many of the striking surfaces of his hands and feet but this is a far cry from the Chinese iron palm.


The iron palm has little to do with developing heavy callouses or breaking coconuts. It is a special technique that enables the practitioner to transmit most of the force of his blow to an area beneath (or quite a distance from) the target that he strikes. For instance, a blow to the abdomen would leave no external evidence of a blow but the strike or punch could rupture internal organs without leaving any bruising on the surface of the flesh…or a blow to the arm may result in a ruptured liver (the target is a considerable distance from the point of impact) and again, no bruising is caused on the arm!

There is a famous photo of iron palm and Shao-lin Master Gu Yu Cheong, who practiced a form of northern Shao-lin gong-fu. The photo depicts him breaking a very large stack of bricks. You’ll notice that he’s no heavily-muscled hulk, nor were his hands calloused. When I was in China back in 1982, I walked past a construction site on a Sunday (no workers were present) and noticed a pile of bricks. I decided to break one so that I could determine if they were much different from bricks made in the U.S. I was shocked when I picked one up and it was light as a feather! I struck one and it virtually exploded…and I realized that the bricks were simple baked clay; U.S. And European bricks have a lot of filler in them, making them very strong and hard. Not so in China at that time. Although the experience didn’t do much for my sense of security as we visited many brick buildings, I understood that there was a considerable difference in the quality of bricks made in the West and those in China (this has now changed; in 2013 I did the same thing and found that the current bricks produced in China are now properly mixed with fillers and very strong).

What many people don’t know about Master Gu is that HE COULD SELECTIVELY BREAK ANY BRICK IN THE STACK while leaving the others intact. If you asked him to split the 5th brick from the bottom, he could do just that… and THAT is a true “iron palm.”

At that time (the early 1900’s), China traded with numerous nations, including Russia. Now, several European boxers had had matches with local gong-fu adepts and oftentimes, beat them soundly. Gu stepped up to the plate and trounced several foreign boxers. On one occasion, Russian sailors were teasing him because they wanted another match.

Gu knew that the Russians often brought some fine race-horses with them and they would race them against Chinese steeds. Not wishing to waste any more time crossing fists with the foreigners, he asked them to bring out their finest horse.

A confused ship’s captain complied and had his men bring out a large Russian race-horse. Gu said he would provide a good example of gong-fu for them and he placed one hand on the horse’s back. He suddenly slapped the horse’s back (some say that he simply pressed on it) and the animal immediately collapsed, dead on the spot. The captain ordered an autopsy and it was found that most of the horse’s viscera had been severely ruptured! Gu wasn’t challenged to any more boxing bouts.


Iron palm training is tedious and often painful. Contrary to what many gong-fu enthusiasts may think, it involves much more than repeatedly slapping a small cloth sack full of beans or iron shot (the old-timers never used iron pellets because it was too expensive and some said it might adversely affect one’s health). There’s much, much more to it and training must be done at least six days a week (a training session might last for more than 90 minutes). Special form(s) of qigong are also practiced and special medicine(s) is applied to the hands after each session. Many, if not most, of the current commercially made “iron palm” medicines available today are actually watered-down forms of what is known as “bruise linament.” However, there are some herbalists who still produce the traditional brew (one of them is my good friend, Miles Coleman, who owns Black Belt Herbs, and I understand that Mr. Dale Dugas also produces a high-quality iron-palm medicine…they’re both on Facebook).

There are training exercises that are intended to strengthen the legs and hips, build power in the grip, and several of them are directed at teaching the practitioner to transmit energy far beneath the surface of the blow (although the exercises don’t appear to foster such skill, they do so without the students necessarily being consciously aware of it). To develop this rare skill requires courage, determination, and the tutelage of a good teacher who has walked the same path.

Of Pens and Swords: Jin Yong’s Journey

Kung Fu Tea

In recent years Louis Cha’s novels have become subjects for comic book artists.


The Loss of Heroes

The Chinese martial arts community has lost two giants.  The death of Rey Chow (who was instrumental in jumpstarting Bruce Lee’s martial arts films) and Louis Cha (who wrote under the name Jin Yong) comes as a double blow. Granted, neither man is remembered primarily as a practitioner of the martial arts.  Yet as story tellers they had a huge impact on the development of the shared web of signs, meanings and desires that would shape the development of the Chinese martial art community from roughly the 1950s until the present. As scholars we need to pay close attention to this cultural web as it is the software that structures the human experience.  While not strictly determinative, none of us will strive to accomplish that which we cannot imagine.

Both of these figures…

View original post 2,597 more words

Through a Lens Darkly (56): New York City’s Kung Fu and the Roaring 1920s

Kung Fu Tea


While I have a few connections in New York City’s TCMA community, it has always been my experience that one turns up different sorts of insights by getting out and exploring the terrain on one’s own.  It was with that notion in mind that my wife and I set out to reconnoiter the older Manhattan Chinatown, which now seems almost quaint when compared in scale to its larger and more vibrant neighbor in Queens. The weather was great, and we got some memorable photos of tourists from China stopping to take photos of Chinese-American businesses and families.  The gods of globalization move in mysterious ways.

The afternoon was not a total bust.  We briefly made contact with two people working on Xingyi in a local park, though it was abundantly clear that no manner of martial art was going to distract the local residents from the many card games…

View original post 1,685 more words

Martial Arts Holidays


Studying martial arts in the United States has never been easier. There are thousands of martial arts studios across the country, and these facilities offer training in a wide range of different disciplines. Regardless of whether you are studying Muay Thai or traditional Judo, you can take educational classes to learn the basics without ever traveling far from home.

However, many students of the martial arts would prefer a more immersive experience. Traveling to Asia can help you connect with some of the best masters currently accepting new students. It can also allow you to focus more intently on your practice, as your sole daily focus will be martial arts, instead of attempting to just squeeze it in between work and family obligations.

Learn more about Martial Arts Holidays and Vacations.

Martial Classics: The Complete Fist Cannon in Verse

Kung Fu Tea

A period depiction of Ming Soldiers involved in the Piracy Crisis which inspired Qi Jiguang’s now famous discussion of military training. Source: Ming Qiu Shizhou Taiwan Zoukai Tu (Victory in Taiwan by Qiu Ying [pseudonym Shizhou] of the Ming, 1494 – 1552).  Click here to learn more about this important source.

Translator’s Note

Here is the full translation of the Qi Jiguang’s Fist Method as it appears in the Wubei Zhi, offered as a follow-up to my initial discussion of the challenges of translating this text into English verse. If you are coming to this discussion for the first time, you may want to read that initial essay before proceeding on. I want to make this available to everyone who expressed interest and to anyone else who might find it helpful. I do not intend this to be authoritative or even unchanging. Input and discussion is always…

View original post 5,450 more words

Gyokushin Ryu


This school, which is one of the 3 ‘ninja’ schools (as opposed to the 6 ‘samurai’ schools of the Bujinkan), is not officially taught in the Bujinkan curriculum, and so it raises the question why is it part of the Bujinkan at all? Well there are a number of answers to that, many of which include Soke Masaaki Hatsumi choosing to not devulge all his teaching to joe public; to only a select few. Although this maybe true, the essence of the Gyokushin Ryu has been taught in both seminars, lessons and on video. Hatsumi has officially said that Gyokushin has no named techniques, but strategies and free movement so it is likely that he doesn’t formally teach them because there are no kata to actually teach.

It is believed that Gyokushin Ryu’s founder, Sasaki Goemon Teruyoshi, who founded the school in the 16th century, was originally from the Gyokko Ryu lineage, or that at least the techniques of the Gyokushin Ryu were based on the Gyokko Ryu techniques. Gyokushin Ryu focuses mainly on stratagem and espionage, rather than combat, which is typical of most ninjutsu schools, since their techniques were mixed with other combat schools early on already. Sasaki Goemon’s son Sasaki Gendayu, was employed by the Daimyo of Kishu, and was paid 200 Koku per year (one Koku was enough to feed one man for a year), this was later raised to 400 Koku per year. It is highly possible that he, like his father was highly skilled in the Gyokko Ryu as well as Gyokushin Ryu. Gyokushin Ryu practitioners also came into contact with the Togakure Ryu, but in time the Gyokushin Ryu split into 3 different directions: Kosshijutsu (Ninpo Taijutsu), Koppojutsu and Jujutsu. However, since they split, all 3 Gyokushin schools have had no connection with eact other in the meantime.

Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 2.23.43 PM

From what little has been taught on Gyokushin Ryu, the style appears to be about expansion and inserting yourself into the opponents movement as well as the use of the rope, or lasso. The unarmed techniques would appear to be based on the Gyokko Ryu, and are very similar. The kamae for example, such as Ichimonji no Kamae, is exactly the same. It uses bent arms and (iron) fingernails for striking, and like the Gyokko Ryu, there are only a few steps per technique; the majority of the body movement comes through the shifting of weight by bending the knees.

The Sasaki family kept the teachings of the Gyokushin Ryu secret, and it was not until it passed to Toda Nobutsuna and was taught along side, and mixed with other schools, that it came more out into the open. Because of this secrecy there are two people laying claim to being the Soke of this school. One is Hatsumi Masaaki, and the other, Ueno Takashi, is also an ex-student like Hatsumi of Takamatsu Toshitsugu (some people believe him to be a relative of Takamatsu). Both give different lineage. The Dai Nipon Bugei Ryu-ha book lists Ueno lineage and has no mention of the Toda-Takamatsu-Hatsumi line so somewhere in the eight missing generations someone either split a school or gave it to two people. Ueno Takashi is reputed to have been covered with tattoos, and was very friendly with the local Yakuza. It is possible that Ueno Takashi is dead, and that the new inheritor to this version of the Gyokushin Ryu is Kaminage Shigemi, although I cannot seem to find Kaminage actually openly claiming that anywhere, but that does not mean that he does not have the sokeship, just, as in typical ninja fashion, he chooses not to tell the public about it!

Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 2.23.55 PM

As well as these two soke claims, the founder of another school, Yoseikan, called Minoru Mochizuki is said to have based his school’s teachings on Gyokushin Ryu Jujutsu. Kano Jigero, the founder of Kodokan Judo, was a friend of Takamatsu Sensei. It is possible that Takamatsu taught at the Kodokan as a guest instructor and that what he taught there was the Gyokushin Ryu. This also makes the claim by Mochizuki believable. He was born in 1907, and started Budo at the age of 5 years old. He studied many things such as Gyokushin Ryu Jujutsu. At the age of 26 he joined the Kodokan, and in 1928 was promoted to Sandan. At this time he was living in Tsurumi. Mochizuki says that the suitemi techniques taught in the new martial art he has created, the Yoseikan (also based on Judo, Aikido, Karate, and Katori Shinto Ryu), come from the Gyokushin Ryu. Mochizuki was a student of Kano at the Kodokan, and holds the rank of 8th Dan in Judo, he therefore probably met Takamatsu at some point, but there is no guarantee that he was taught Gyokushin by him or not!


Chinese Martial Arts in the News: Oct. 22 2018: Archery, Kung Fu Villages and the Lives of Detective Dee

Kung Fu Tea


It has been a busy weekend, so this news update will be brief. Nevertheless, I wanted to comment on some of the more interesting stories that have been floating around. For new readers, this is a semi-regular feature here at Kung Fu Tea in which we review media stories that mention or affect the traditional fighting arts.  In addition to discussing important events, this column also considers how the Asian hand combat systems are portrayed in the mainstream media.

While we try to summarize the major stories over the last month, there is always a chance that we may have missed something.  If you are aware of an important news event relating to the TCMA, drop a link in the comments section below.  If you know of a developing story that should be covered in the future feel free to send me an email.

Its been way too long since our…

View original post 1,976 more words

Muay Thai Sangha school mission explained…

Check out this article on on Kru Pedro Solana by Janine Yasovant. Janine writes for the Scene 4. Enjoy!

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 4.17.59 PM

I would like to introduce you to a Spaniard who has a passion for martial arts especially Muay Thai and Thai weaponsHis name is Pedro Solana. Currently, he is living and operating a training camp in Mae Taeng District, Chiang Mai Thailand to teach Muay Thai and Thai weapons to students who come from over the world

Pedro Solana was born in Spain. He entered the martial arts world training in judo when he was only six years old. In the 80’s he was introduced to Muay Thai by Ajarn Eugenio Fraile, where his fighting career began. In the early 90’s he moved to the USA to further his Muay Thai skills under Ajarn Surachai Sirisute and continued fighting professionally for a number of years. During those years he trained other disciplines including Wing Chun under Sifu Francis Fong, Kali under Guro Dan Inosanto, and various other masters of grappling (Machado brothers, Royce Gracie, Ricardo Murgel and Jacare Calvalcante).

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 4.18.27 PMIn 1998, after becoming the United States Muay Thai Middle Weight Professional Champion, he decided to travel to Thailand for a full year to expand his Muay Thai and Krabi Krabong skills. In 2000 he opened the Thailand Arts Institute in Atlanta, GA. to support his fighting career. In 2002 he permanently moved to Thailand to continue learning. After becoming a monk he went to train in Muay Thai Chaiya under Kru Lek and came back to Krabi Krabong (Thai Weapons) training under Ajarn Sila Mesaman from the Wat Buddhai Sawan School. In 2003, Pedro Solana opened his first school in Thailand. In 2010 he expanded into various other forms of South East Asian martial arts including Silat Minangkabau Ground Fighting, Bokator and Kalaripayattu. From his exposure to different martial arts he created a unique and effective system of self defense known as “Muay Thai Sangha Fighting Arts“.

Later on, through experience, deep reflection, and self discovery, Solana realized in meditation that certain aspects in the ‘Fighting Arts’ were missing. In 2013 he decide to blend these internal concepts together and develop a new form of self defense called “Kshatria Sangham Internal Arts” which included all the concepts from his past experiences of fighting.

His work now is involved in teaching seminars around the world, and creating documentaries to expose an important message for humanity related to overcoming inner fears and developing and understanding the “Self” through the path of martial arts.

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 4.18.42 PM

You can read the full interveiw here….