The Origins of Jiu Jitsu and Kempo (part 5)

The Tai Chi Notebook

The final part of our podcast series on Jiu Jitsu and Kempo is live. In this episode we spend a long time trying not to talk about Aikido, then agree to talk about it more next time. Apart from that, we follow the developments in Japan through to modern times, with particular attention paid to the history of the yakuza.

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Chinese Martial Arts in the News: Dec 10, 2018: Young Masters, Colorful History, Chinese Swords

Kung Fu Tea


Its official, holiday madness is upon us. Still, 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 last update so let’s get to…

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Varieties of “Tradition”: Work, Play and Leisure in Martial Arts — Kung Fu Tea

A Different Kind of Race Horse races are strongholds of pageantry and tradition, but when it comes to medieval texture, few can compare with the Palio di Siena. Oddly, any footage of the event reminds me of a critical issue within martial arts studies. I suppose that is an occupational hazard. Pretty much anything […]

via Varieties of “Tradition”: Work, Play and Leisure in Martial Arts — Kung Fu Tea

Fighting in the age of loneliness

The Tai Chi Notebook

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I thought I’d bring your attention to a great little video series written and directed by Felix Biederman that’s been produced by SBNation called Fighting in the age of loneliness. It’s a kind of history of MMA and the UFC, including all the influences from Japan to Brazil and elsewhere, including the Pride period, set against the social/economic backdrop the USA and Japan.

One particular quote I liked was:

‘Your home belongs to the bank, your gas tank is lining the pockets of those who had more to do with 911 than the country your brother just died fighting in and you’re told the economy is in high gear even though your paycheck is buying less and less but what you just saw in the cage was unambiguous. One person hit another and the other fell. Nothing about it lied to you.’

Here are the episodes:

Episode 1:


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No Hurry

by Phillip Starr

It seems like I’m always telling you to sit back and watch other students in class so that you can learn what not to do. Well, this time isn’t much different. Sorry.


Next time your teacher calls someone up to perform a given form (or maybe even if he does a form himself), pay attention…but today we’re not going to be paying attention to the form, per se.

We’re going to pay attention to what happens before the form starts…outwardly.

We’ll call the person doing the form “Elmer.”

Once Elmer is standing in the spot from which he intends to execute the form, watch him. Odds are that he’ll begin in the proper basic “natural” stance, whether it’s “attention” or “informal attention” or whatever. He’ll assume that stance and then almost immediately break out into his form.

Is that wrong?

Well, not necessarily. But it is a bit hurried. I mean, he’s acting as though he’s sort of anxious to get it over with. Like it’s an exercise; jumping jacks or push-ups or whatever. And if that’s the case; if he really is in a bit of a hurry, then the entire set is bad.


Because his mind isn’t focused and his spirit is scattered. He isn’t really rooted into his form. He doesn’t feel it. He’s just going through the moves like a good robot. His techniques and stances and such may be technically correct but he isn’t really doing the form.

Let’s take a moment to look at the Japanese art of drawing and cutting with the sword which is known as iaido. Different schools of iaido utilize various kata (forms). Some use identical or very similar kata and some are very unique to a particular style. But regardless of which school a given kata comes from, one thing is always true.

They’re short. Really short.

I mean the entire kata may consist of the draw, one or maybe two cuts, and then the sword is re-sheathed. And that’s it. Granted, there are many, many small and subtle movements that must be perfected if the kata is to be performed correctly. This is something that the “sport” crowd always misses. They grasp the sword and swing it like a Louisville Slugger and although their high-pitched kiais (which often sound like a cat being sexually molested) and fancy uniforms may make the kata look impressive, it’s usually one huge mass of errors from start to finish.

But that’s not my point. The point I’m aiming at can be seen if you watch a skilled iaido practitioner as he prepares to execute his kata. Once in the proper position (which is usually kneeling in the case of iaido, but it wouldn’t matter if he was standing), he half-closes his eyes and takes three deep breaths.

You ask if this is done to relax his body? Well, of course. But more importantly, it “centers” his mind and spirit. He breathes down into his dantien (tanden in Japanese/Okinawan) as his posture is made correct:

* Ears pushed slightly up away from the shoulders.
* Sphincter slightly tightened.
* Coccyx slightly tucked forward.
* Feet flat on the floor.
* Shoulders and chest relaxed.

There’s no hurry. If he isn’t ready after three breaths, he can take more.

Then when his body, mind, and spirit are ready, the form begins.

Notice that I didn’t say that HE begins the form. The FORM seems to begin itself…

He feels every movement and savors each one. He doesn’t try to rush through it like we do when we’re hungry and slamming down a Snickers. He may appear to move quickly but inside, he’s taking his time. Feeling. Tasting the movements with his body.

This is very important in iaido if, for no other reason, so you don’t muck things up and cut yourself! But the skilled swordsman never worries about that. It never enters his mind because he’s done the kata so many times and his movements are precise.

I think this is a lesson we can all take from iaido. Next time you prepare to practice a form, take three slow, deep, abdominal breaths and “center” your mind and spirit while you root yourself. Then let the form begin when it’s ready.

No hurry.

The history of Jiujitsu and Kempo. Part 4

The Tai Chi Notebook

The latest episode of the Heretics podcast is out!

In part 4 we examine the time period between 1960 and 1980 in Japan, and discuss topics such as martial arts marketing and the different ways in which the Japanese created and promoted a wide range of new martial arts.

Here are a few links to videos of the things we talk about this time:

Gracie vs. Kimura – October 23, 1951 (Maracanã Stadium – Rio de Janeiro, Brasil)

Gracies vs bullies on beach:

Rikidozan vs Masahiko Kimura (1954 – Part 2/2)

PRIDE 25: Kazushi Sakuraba vs Antonio “Elvis” Schembri

Muhammed Ali vs Antonio Inoki Boxer vs MMA Fighter 1976

Mas Oyama vs “bull”:

TV show about Iwama and Aikido, Ibaraki Prefecture (茨城県, Ibaraki-ken) Japan featuring the late Morihiro Saito Sensei.



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Wabi-Sabi: Martial Arts in a Warming World — Kung Fu Tea

Martial Arts and Politics: The Big Picture The latest (dire) global warming report produced by US government scientists is inspiring conversations everywhere. I overheard a particularly interesting discussion between two colleagues earlier this week which focused not so much on the technological or policy measures that would be necessary to deal with […]

via Wabi-Sabi: Martial Arts in a Warming World — Kung Fu Tea

2018 Christmas Shopping List: Martial Arts Equipment and Long Reads to Get You Through the Winter Months

Kung Fu Tea

Bernard the Kung Fu Elf riding Shotgun with Santa. (Source: Vintage American Postcard, authors personal collection.)

I am not going to lie. The annual Christmas list is my favorite post of the year. So welcome to Kung Fu Tea’s seventh annual holiday shopping list!  Not only are we going to find some cool gift ideas, but hopefully this post will inspire you to make time for martial arts practice during the festive season.  Training is a great way to deal with the various stresses that holidays always bring.  And Christmas is the perfect excuse to stock up on that gear that you have been needing all year.

This year’s shopping list is split into four categories: books, training equipment, weapons, and (for the first time) “gifts for the martial artist who has everything”. This last category will focus on experiences rather than objects. I have tried to select items at…

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The Hero with a Thousand Holds — The Tai Chi Notebook

A quick shout out to this new podcast from Ruadhán MacFadden. Inspired by a mapping project he created on various historical and cultural aspects of grappling arts. The map contains 74 different folk wrestling styles and shows their location in the world. The podcast focusses on all the different styles, starting with Irish Collar and […]

via The Hero with a Thousand Holds — The Tai Chi Notebook

Why Every Nurse Should Learn Martial Arts

When you think of qualifications that a nurse should possess, the ability to throw a good punch is probably at the bottom of the list. Nurses, however, can greatly benefit from learning martial arts. According to a survey by the American Nurses Association, over a fifth of nurses and nursing students surveyed reported being physically assaulted by patients. Learning a martial art can give nurses the skills and the confidence to protect themselves and their coworkers while on the job. What’s more, it’s also good for the mind, the body, and the soul. Here are just a few of the ways that martial arts can benefit members of the nursing community.

Keep Physically Fit

Physical fitness is especially important for nurses due to the nature of their job. Rushing around the hospital, standing on their feet all day, and lifting heavy patients and equipment requires nurses to be in peak form. Practicing a martial art is a great way to get fit, as it offers both strength training and cardiovascular benefits. It can lower your blood pressure and heart rate while reducing the risk of stroke. Martial arts are also designed to help you improve your flexibility, your coordination, and your speed, all of which are essential traits for a nurse.

Sharpen Your Mind

In addition to being beneficial for the body, practicing martial arts is also good for the mind. Most martial arts stem from ancient Eastern practices and place as much of an emphasis on training the brain as the body. Mental focus and self-discipline are a cornerstone of many widely practiced martial arts. As a nurse, you can work on finding your center, helping you to concentrate and improve your performance at work. Martial arts have also been shown to enhance your mental wellness, lower stress, and even improve decision-making skills, which can make all the difference in a split-second environment such as an emergency room.

Defend Yourself

It’s an unfortunate truth that nursing isn’t the safest profession to go into, especially for those who are petite. Nurses face threats on a near daily basis, from patients seizing to withdrawal victims acting out. ER nurses in particular, tend to see a lot of violent or intoxicated patients that may pose a danger to them or other staff members.

Learning a martial art teaches you how to defend yourself against attack in the safest possible way. While most martial arts emphasize peace over violence, if talking down a patient fails to work or if they lunge, you may be forced to act. In this case, a keep grasp of practices such as Judo or Krav Maga may help you to defend yourself without risking heavy damage to your patient.

While some may balk at the idea, learning a martial art would be a skill that would benefit just about any nurse. It has long-lasting mental, physical, and emotional benefits that can help medical staff to keep calm and perform better while on the job. Martial arts also give nurses the option to defend themselves if they find themselves in a dangerous situation.