Through a Lens Darkly (51): Early Kendo in California

Kung Fu Tea

Boy Scouts practice Kendo in California, 1928. Source: Vintage Press Photo. Author’s Personal Collection.

Of Boy Scouts and Kendo

A recent post focused on the role of the global scouting movement in promoting the spread of the Asian martial arts during the first half of the 20th century. In that essay I mentioned a photograph of Japanese-American and Caucasian scouts practicing Kendo together in California during the 1920s. Yet observant readers may have noticed I did not actually include that photo in the post.

Sadly I had misplaced that particular photo so it didn’t make it into that piece. But it recently resurfaced as I was shuffling through my collection. Better yet, I came across another related item which also helps to add detail to our understanding of Kendo in America prior to 1941.

I quite like the first of these press photos. In it we see two figures seemingly…

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Pushing and Pulling: Scouts and the Spread of the Asian Martial Arts

Structure and Agency Contrary to popular opinion, nature does not love parsimony. This frequently repeated opinion is more an aesthetic judgement on the part of some scholars rather than an empirical observation about the actual functioning of the natural or social worlds. When looking at questions as complex as the global spread of the […]

via Pushing and Pulling: Scouts and the Spread of the Asian Martial Arts — Kung Fu Tea

Koto Ryu

by Fane Hervey – Ninjutsu London

The ‘Tiger Knocking Down School‘ does not really have an exact origin. Like Gyokko Ryu, it is thought to have originated from China, being brought to Japan by a monk called Chan Busho, but when, or even if this is true, remains a mystery. This makes it hard to really tell what influenced it from a Chinese kung fu perspective. On one hand, the linear fashion of Koto Ryu would indicate something of a Xing yi origin, although Xing yi itself is steeped in legend and the exact origin of that art are also unknown. Maybe that’s just a coincidence! Certainly though, Xing yi has an older claim, with its originator supposedly being Yue Fei, the famous Song Dynasty general (10th-13th century). The first Soke of the Koto Ryu; Sakagami Taro Kunishige, is dated as being 16th century. It could also have easily originated from a monk, Xing yi being a popular Taoist martial system.

The second Soke of Koto Ryu was meant to be Bando Kotaro Minamoto Masahide, but unfortunately he was killed in battle around 1542. Therefore the sokeship past to Sougyoku Kan Ritsushi, who was the 17th generation Soke of Gyokko Ryu. So since then, the Koto Ryu and Gyokko Ryu, follow the same lineage. Traditionally only the next soke was taught the Koto Ryu, whereas any student could have been taught the Gyokko Ryu. However, there are instances of many ninja knowing both, so it would appear that this was not a steadfast rule.

Koto Ryu is a hard natured discipline, so it really requires conditioning and tough training. This used to be done by punching and kicking stones and gravel. Supposedly this would empower the practitioner to puncture a tree with 5 holes from a ‘shako ken’ – claw strike!!!

The name of the school, knocking a tiger down, implies that the techniques are for hitting a larger, more powerful opponent.The techniques are rough in their execution and the attitude is a ‘do or die, no mercy’ type of mentality. It is a very brutal system.

Koto Ryu is known for its koppojutsu, (bone breaking/attacking) , shurikenjutsu, and kenjutsu. Unlike the Gyokko Ryu which plays more with distances, Koto Ryu is very close in its execution and is far more offensive. The angling of the attacks can often be at 90 degrees to the opponent, so the timing and rhythm of the practitioner must be excellent in order to be successful. However, the starting distances in the densho for the Koto Ryu are often quite far apart, so this would indicate that it was designed more for the battlefield, rather than confined spaces.
So technically the Gyokko Ryu (and therefore Gikan Ryu) and Koto Ryu complement each other really well, and they form the basis of self defense in the Togakure Ryu too. However, you should not forget that the Koto Ryu is also a system in itself, independent from the Gyokko Ryu, with unique ways of moving.

This school is taught inside the “Bujinkan”, “Genbukan”, and “Jinenkan”, even though Soke Hatsumi is actually the only registered Soke of the school.

To visit Fane Hervey’s site or more writing on Ninjutsu visit –

Best Kung Fu School in China for Food

This is my list of the best kung fu schools in China for 2017. In this article I have chosen only the very best kung fu schools based on what they offer in terms of training, location, food and how well they cater to kids. Each year we will update this list based our school visits and student reviews.

Best for Food

Best Kung Fu Retreat for Food
Best Kung Fu Retreat for Food

To say that this Kung Fu School in China was only best for food would be an injustice. Kung Fu Zen Garden Retreat has so much more going for it. The retreat is on the outskirts of Beijing within in a beautiful traditional court yard. It offers not only excellent traditional Chinese food, but also zen meditation, calligraphy practice, lectures on Chinese martial culture and of course the ability to learn martial arts in a number of traditional styles.

The food at the school is locally sourced, and lovingly prepared to suit all tastes and diets.

To find out which school I recommend for Best Location, Best for Kids and Best for Food. Click here. Learn Kung fu in China with StudyMartialArts.Org

To learn kung fu in China or learn more about any of these schools. Visit the StudyMartialArts.Org website or email us direct at


Gyokko Ryu

by Fane Hervey – Ninjutsu London

The Gyokko Ryu, meaning “School of the Jewelled Tiger”, is one of the oldest Japanese martial arts and one of the few that claims its origins from China. This is of particular interest to me, since I also practice Baji Zhandao kungfu, which like the Bujinkan, is made up of many different schools of martial art. This shows a link between the Chinese and Japanese arts that I practice. It is said that Gyokko Ryu’s development was based on Chinese Kempo. Personally I think this is too much of a generic explanation. In reality, according to Chinese Martial Art history, there are 3 likely origins: Shaolin, Muslim Chinese arts such as Jia Zi Quan (a very old martial art from west China, that later may have become part of Baji quan and Piqua Zhang) or Taoist arts such as Taoist wrestling which would later become Shuaijiao and the origins of tai chi. Jia Zi Quan is of particular interest, because the description of the movements, are not only very similar to Baji Quan, but also have similarities to the Gyokko Ryu. The style is based on quick, agile movements interspersed with sudden stops and steady still stances, performers are said to be `now moving like the wind, now standing nailed to the ground.`takamatsumigi-1-e1478527938616

Gyokko Ryu is often described as requiring fast body movements, strong striking & blocking techniques, and needs to be both powerful and graceful. Yet the power and strength come exclusively from the refined way of aligning and structuring the body, as opposed to muscular contraction. Since most of the techniques of the Gyokko Ryu end with controlling the attacker, the originator, a Chinese General called Cho Gyokko, was thought to have been a defector from the Imperial Guard. If this is true then it is unlikely that he was Shaolin, since the monks did not often populate the Imperial guard, and they were not known for these types of controlling techniques. When we say controlling, this can include stamping on the the opponent when they are down, something that Kacem has pointed out as specific to the Gyokko Ryu. This is similar to the stamping that is found within Baji Quan and the Jia Zi Quan influence (a military art that specialised in Spear; no coincidence that this is also the description for Baji Quan or Ba Zi Quan as it was formerly called!). It should also be noted that the Muslim Communities during the Tang Dynasty were the main populace that made up the Imperial army! However, due to Empress Wu’s influence, Taoists were also influential, and also had many restraining and controlling techniques in their arsenal, so who knows, but I think we can be a little more specific than just ‘Chinese Kempo’ as the originator.

A Gyokko Ryu practitioner waits for the opponent to attack, in order to leave them with no chance. Once you have found the opponent’s weak point, attack this with all your strength, no mercy. This is the philosophy of the school. The mindset needed is to believe in certain victory! However, although one must destroy the force of the enemy, you should also endeavour to spare his life. These are high principles indeed, and more common to a Taoist or Zen Buddhist philosophy, as opposed to a Muslim one.


There are also other rules that apply to the personality of the student if they wish to practice Gyokko Ryu: “…a true warrior should always be aware of the responsibility he has towards his nation and his fellow man. He should forget his ego and take care of virtues like discipline, patience, and courage. However, in case of danger, he should keep his spirit free and remain silent. The techniques and knowledge acquired should not be passed to others without the explicit approval of the teacher.”

Today the Gyokko Ryu forms the technical basis of the Tenchijin – Bujinkan syllabus. Although it has been listed as a Ninjutsu school by the Bugei Ryuha Daijiten, it is more of a Bujutsu school. It has been passed down through the generations to Masaaki Hatsumi who is the 28th grandmaster.

Almost only the area of kosshijutsu (attacks against muscles and nerves) is taught these days within the Bujinkan. The only exception I have found to this is Kacem who has taught Gyokko Ryu Koppojutsu (bone breaking) elements in past seminars. At the same time, it’s techniques form a basis for the entirety of our taijutsu training. The most important elements are command of the forms of the five Sanshin (3 hearts) and the eight basic techniques – the Kihon Happo. This includes all the important fighting methods: blocking techniques, strikes, kicks and attacks against soft and hard parts of the body as well as joint locks and ‘throws’ (in reality, we do not do many throws, but more breaks and drops, since throwing requires hip rotation which we distinctly try to avoid). Furthermore, these eight basic techniques are also to be found in other Bujinkan Ryu, each with different feelings of movement and partly with different techniques. The ‘form of the five elements’, the sanshin no kata, also incorporates various styles. This is the preferred style out of which several scenarios for fighting techniques are practised.

The main feature of the school is the footwork. When a joint lock is being practised, this is not done using pure muscle strength but, by using skillful footwork and with retention of the joint lock, you move your body to apply pressure on the opposing joint.

takamatsumusha-1The three basic Kamae (spiritual attitude or posture) of this school show the role of the Boshi Ken as a weapon: in ichimonji no Kamae, hicho no kamae and jumonji no kamae, the thumbs always point upwards. This can be used effectively for catching and guiding a weapon or limb where you want it without having to grab it, plus it keeps the thumbs ready for pressure striking the body at unusual angles. The preferred position for defence is Migi no kamae (right leg in front) in order to protect the heart better against attacks.

The Gyokko Ryu is known not only for its extremely effective kosshijutsu, but also for the effective use with the katana, tanto and bo staff. The weapons specific to the Gyokko Ryu are not often taught within the Bujinkan, but once again, as with the koppojutsu, with Kacem and Ishizuka Sensei, there is an exception.

To visit Fane Hervey’s site or more writing on Ninjutsu visit –

The problem with push hands challenges

The Tai Chi Notebook


This is a really interesting article from Practical Method Tai Chi about the passive-aggressive world of Tai Chi push hands challenges in China – I really try to avoid pushing hands with people I don’t know for many of the reasons described here.

I think the best use of push hands is as a teaching tool, where it is invaluable. Used as a method to compare skills it inevitably turns into ‘Wrestling Lite’, and the best wrestler wins.

Check out the article here.

You might also like: Thoughts on Push hands by Mike Sigman

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Best Kung Fu School in China for Kids

This is my list of the best kung fu schools in China for 2017. In this article I have chosen only the very best kung fu schools based on what they offer in terms of training, location, food and how well they cater to kids. Each year we will update this list based our school visits and student reviews.

Best for Kids

Best Martial Arts School for Kids
Best Kung Fu School for Kids

I have chosen Yuntai Shan International Culture and Martial Arts School as being the best school for kids 12-16 because unlike other martial arts schools this one offers an authentic opportunity for your children to interact and train with other Chinese kung fu students of a similar age. This means that they are not forced to hangout with older students, and so are less likely to be exposed to inappropriate language or behaviour.

Another benefit of this schools is that throughout the day students are expected to present themselves for line ups. This means that students are regularly monitored and accounted for throughout the day. On the downside however, older students can find this tedious. In terms of the schools accommodation and amenities. These are fairly basic and internet connections can be irregular. Nevertheless, this school has much more experience than other schools of a similar nature. Hence it has a better track record of dealing with foreigners.

To find out which school I recommend for Best Location, Best for Kids and Best for Food. Click here. Learn Kung fu in China with StudyMartialArts.Org

To learn kung fu in China or learn more about any of these schools. Visit the StudyMartialArts.Org website or email us direct at

The Dark Side

by Phillip Starr

For many martial arts enthusiasts the main goal of training is to become stronger and faster, and to master fighting techniques and tactics so as to defeat any aggressor who dares assault them. Basic techniques are drilled over and over while muscles scream and the breath comes in gasps. Forms are practiced over and over and then studied and analyzed in minute detail until their true meaning is understood. Students leave their blood on the striking post and their sweat on the training floor. But underneath it all is something more, something personal, insidious, and dark.

We’ve all faced times of hardship and times of “testing” as we’ve traveled the martial path. These difficulties come in all manner of shapes and sizes, from minor to major injuries, illnesses, delays, loss of interest, problems with relationships…and there is simply no way to intellectualize or buy your way out of them. Oftentimes, you must work or even fight your way through them and at other times you must simply grit your teeth and wait them out. Sometimes simply staying on the path is all you can do. The legendary founder of aikido, Morihei Uyeshiba, put it succinctly:

“In extreme situations it seems as if the entire universe has become our foe.
At such critical times unity of body and mind is essential.
Do not let your heart waver.
Bravely face whatever God offers.
One should be prepared to receive 99% of the enemy’s attack and stare death right in the face in order to illuminate the path.
Transcend the realm of life and death and you will be able to make your way calmly and safely through any crisis that confronts you.”

In the practice of martial arts we must eventually confront our own “shadow side.” All of us have fears – from a simple fear of the dark to fears of pain, financial ruin, loneliness, and disease. And although these fears seem to come from outside of us, I think they are often the result of an internal process. This is a process of which we may not be consciously aware, a process that lies below our surface personality.

In training we strive to perform correctly, even under pressure. It usually doesn’t take long for inhibiting problems to begin to surface; poor attitudes, envy, self-pity, criticism (of self or others), insecurities, anger bubble to the surface to be seen by everyone. You can’t hide them although you may try and then it becomes obvious that you’re trying to conceal them!

The fact is that we’ve lived with these “shadows” for so long that we’ve developed our own personal ways of handling them. They’ve become a part of us – habits, if you will – and we’ve become so accustomed to carrying them around that we don’t even notice them until we get involved in martial arts training, which is really very different from most other physical activities because we’re dealing with the basest form of human relationships…a punch in the mouth. We have to learn to respond appropriately to physical attack while we must simultaneously “be with ourselves” under gradually increasing levels of physical and emotional pressure.

Before long we must face the ways in which we typically handle this and other forms of stress; how we armor ourselves against them, how we withdraw (into ourselves) or attack aggressively and what we see may not be pleasant. We’re exposed not only to ourselves but to all of our classmates as well. The way we defend ourselves under great pressure (as when a partner tries to punch us in the face) shows us how we work to survive in daily life.

As Wilhelm Reich said, your body acts as a “prison” that holds “you” (or what you perceive as “you”) in place. Although you can see an open door before you, you are held back in your “prison” by your limiting beliefs, attitudes, and so forth.

A skilled and caring instructor will see immediately what you see but he cannot present you with an instant “cure.” All he can do is encourage and guide you and you must listen. He’s been where you are. Your chosen martial art can be used as a vehicle to explore those things that you find undesirable in yourself – your fears, what threatens you, feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, and so on. It is at this time, when we recognize various aspects of our “dark side” that we must take master Uyeshiba’s advice to heart.

You face your opponent (your training partner) and he becomes you. You project your fears, your weaknesses, and even your strengths onto him and confront them as you practice fighting. And as you strive to “not lose”, it isn’t really your opponent who you are trying to defeat. It’s your “shadow side.” This is why practice fighting is so very important because in actual combat it’s the same thing. Your opponent, whether he’s just a training partner or a real assailant, is a mirror.

I believe that the willingness to face our “dark side” and striving to understand and eventually overcome our weaknesses, fears, and the many things about ourselves that we would rather keep stashed away is what makes a true warrior. You must begin by being bold enough to admit the truth of what you see about yourself. Then you must be strong enough to resolve those aspects of yourself that you find undesirable. This can be accomplished through correct martial arts training but it isn’t easy and many students will quit training in order to avoid having to face themselves although many of them, perhaps even the majority of them, are unaware that this is the reason they’re quitting.

Remember the word of master Uyeshiba.

moriheiueshiba“In extreme situations it seems as if the entire universe has become our foe.”
(Ever felt like the whole world – maybe even the whole universe – was against you?)

“At such critical times unity of body and mind is essential.”
(First, recognize the situation and the feelings it evokes. Then “Get One-Point” and exercise reverse breathing. Unify your body and mind!)

“Do not let your heart waver.”
(Don’t get cold feet. Don’t even think about the possibility of giving up or failing. Ever. Those are not options.)

“Bravely face whatever God offers.”
(Face the problems directly and remember that every problem you face has a hidden gift to give you.)

“One should be prepared to receive 99% of the enemy’s attack and stare death right in the face in order to illuminate the path.”
(Like the old Japanese saying; “You only live twice. Once when you are born, and once when you look death in the face.” )

“Transcend the realm of life and death and you will be able to make your way calmly and safely through any crisis that confronts you.”
(When you have overcome your fear of death, you can make your way calmly through any crisis.)

Old Wu style Tai Chi video

The Tai Chi Notebook


A video surfaced recently of an old performance of Wu style Tai Chi from a gentleman called Cheng Wing-Kwong (1903-1967), who was a disciple of the Wu Jian-Quan, the founder of Wu style Tai Chi.

The video is poor quality, but I like the performance – it’s flowing, well coordinated and done at a good pace, which makes it more interesting to watch. As Wu and Yang style continued to evolve along their separate trajectories they started to look more and more different to each other. In this older video, I think you can see that they looked closer to each other “back in the day”.

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