Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Shudokan Martial Arts Association 2010 Membership!

The new year has arrived and January is almost over. I would like to extend a friendly reminder to all SMAA members to please renew your 2010 membership if you haven't already done so.

The Shudokan Martial Arts Association is an international, non-profit organization that focuses on promoting and safeguarding Nihon budo and bujutsu — the traditional martial arts and ways of Japan. The SMAA has separate divisions for karate-do, aikido, judo, traditional jujutsu, iaido, and goshin-jutsu (modern self-defense systems stemming from budo or bujutsu). Full membership is only $25 for the entire year.

The objectives of the SMAA are as follows:
  1. To promote and aid in the growth of Japan's traditional martial arts and ways.
  2. To assist the public in achieving spiritual growth and physical development through budo/bujutsu training.
  3. To further friendship and understanding between Asian and Western martial artists.
  4. To establish goodwill and harmony among martial artists of various systems.
  5. To offer Western martial artists access to legitimate budo/bujutsu organizations and teachers in Japan.
  6. To give practitioners of authentic budo/bujutsu recognition for their years of devotion to these arts.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sun-tzu and the Art of War

Of all the volumes written on the Martial Arts, the Art of War is probably the most well known, and certainly one of the oldest. Indeed, in any of the myriad treatises explicating strategy and war, it is not uncommon to find references, influences, and plagiarisms of this fine work. There is some controversy as to the actual date it was written — not to mention some controversy over the person who wrote it — but it is generally accepted that the book was authored by a man named Sun-tzu sometime in the vicinity of 500 BC. Yes, BC, not AD. That's not a typo.

If you've heard of Sun-tzu, chances are you know this story: The King of Wu, desiring to evaluate Sun-tzu's potential, asked if it would possible to make soldiers out of women. Sun-tzu answered an affirmative. So the King of Wu called upon eighty of his concubines, and Sun-tzu supplied the women with halberds, arranged them into two companies, and designated the King's two favorite concubines as officers. Sun-tzu demonstrated the proper way to hold a halberd, then instructed the women that he was going to call a command, either "Front," "Back," "Left," or "Right — at which point the women would be expected to face the direction commanded.

So Sun-tzu called a direction, and the women all laughed. This troubled Sun-tzu not at all. He pointed out that if instructions are unclear and not observed, the blame must fall on the commander, and frankly consented his fault. Following, he explained the instructions again, this time in great detail, allowing no ambiguity in the orders. Satisfied the instructions were clear, Sun-tzu once again called a direction.

Once again, the women all laughed, and once again, Sun-tzu pointed out that if instructions are unclear and not observed, the blame must fall on the commander — but if instructions are clear and not carried out, then it is the fault of the officers. He ordered the palace guards to behead King's two favorite concubines who had been appointed to that position.

The King, watching from afar, sent a message to Sun-tzu, informing that he was pleased: that there was no need to behead his favorite concubines. Sun-tzu returned a message to the King, pointing out that the King was far away, not on the battlefield, and therefore had no business interfering with military affairs. The two women lost their heads, two new officers were appointed, and the remaining concubines eagerly did as they were told.

The Art of War is composed of thirteen chapters that explicate a wide variety of topics germane to war, such as Offensive Strategy, Maneuver, and the Use of Spies. It is clear and direct, as instructions must be in times of demand, an unlike many books published on the Martial Arts, the Art of War is not esoteric at all. Sun-tzu writes, "Advance knowledge cannot be obtained from ghosts or spirits, inferred from phenomena, or projected from the measures of Heaven, but must be gained from men for it is the knowledge of the enemy's true situation."

I suggest the translation of the Art of War by Ralph D. Sawyer.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Go Rin no Sho

The Go Rin no Sho, or Book of Five Rings, is one of the most famous volumes on the Martial Arts. It was written in the mid-1600s by a swordsman named Miyamoto Musashi, who devoted his entire life to swordsmanship and the way of combat. It is recorded that Musashi fought over sixty duels which he never lost — though interestingly, there is evidence that Musashi faced a man by the name of Muso Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi, who bested the swordsman with a jo (a four-foot long staff).

Naturally, the Book of Five rings can be found beside other Martial Arts books in the bookstore (which means: tucked away in the Sports section, which I've always considered rather asinine), but I once found a copy that was cataloged under "Business." And if business is war, then why not?

The book is divided into five sections, and each section is named after one of the five elements of Japanese philosophy. In the first section, the Earth Chapter, Musashi outlines his book and compares the martial arts to the arts in general. The second section is the Water Chapter, and therein Mushashi discusses the fundamentals of his style. The third section, the Fire Chapter, is an explanation of strategy in battle and conflict. In the fourth section, the Wind Chapter, Musashi considers the ways and flaws of other martial art styles. The book concludes with the Emptiness Chapter, which is rather esoteric and difficult to describe. Musashi writes, "… in the way of the Martial Arts, there is a natural freedom: you naturally gain an extraordinary strength, you know the rhythm of the moment, you strike naturally and you hit naturally. These are all contained in the way of Emptiness."

The Book of Five Rings is the sort of book you have to read and reread many times to fully appreciate. For the most part, the writing is very abstract, which at first makes it difficult to follow — but it is the abstraction that yields its worth. How else could a martial arts book be so useful in business?

There are a multitude of translations out there, including ones on the internet anyone can download for free, but I recommend the copy translated by William Scott Wilson. Wilson is very resourceful, and often has a great section of footnotes in tandem with his translations that are very enlightening. Follow this link to find Wilson's translation of the Go Rin no Sho on

Students of the Martial Arts should obtain a copy of the Book Of Five Rings and investigate it thoroughly.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Bokken Fencing

I have been studying Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido since January of 1999, and I love it. The training is very formal, very concentrated, and deeply concerned with correct breathing and proper body mechanics.

Practically all of the waza (techniques), are performed solo, though there are several kata (organized forms) that involve two people. The two-person kata that I study and practice are Tachi Uchi no Kurai and Tsumeai no Kurai. These kata are of particular interest because they require a sense of distancing and timing that is difficult to grasp without a partner.

But even more so, work with a partner yields feedback through the sword. During solo practice, in the forms of drawing and cutting and parrying and striking, there is no physical contact.

I would ask: In Jujutsu, how could one ever learn proper form without an uke to receive technique? In Judo, how could one learn to throw without participating in randori? While many will agree the purpose of Iaido is not to learn how to fight with a sword, all must agree the art itself evolved from people who fought with a sword.

This yields the question: How can one ever obtain true understanding of Iaido form without engaging in fencing?

This is a question a friend and I asked several years ago. We took it upon ourselves as an independent study to learn how to fence with the Japanese Sword. Here is a snippet of our progress; the video is over a year old, and I'm sure we've changed since then, but I think there are examples of some good exchanges.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


The Intersection of Traditional Asian Martial Arts is an internet resource designed with two purposes in mind. The first is to offer free information and historical background regarding established systems of self defense developed in Japan, China, Okinawa, and the Philippines. The second is to guide the interested to experienced, qualified instructors in the Mid-Michigan area, particularly around East Lansing and Ann Arbor, Mi.

An excellent source of Traditional Japanese Martial Arts is the Japanese Martial Arts Center (JMAC), located in Ann Arbor. Headed by Nicklaus Suino Sensei, JMAC offers superb instruction in Kodokan Judo, Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido (also known as Japanese Swordsmanship), and Nihon Jujutsu.

An excellent source of Internal Chinese Martial Arts is located at the Hannah Community Center in East Lansing. The Nei Jia class, headed by Sifu Douglas Lawrence, is composed of Tai Chi Chuan, Ba Gua Chang, and Hsing-I Chuan.

Further information, such as class schedules, training locations, and private instruction appointments, can be found by visiting the provided links.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Fox and the Tiger

A tiger corners a fox, and the fox says to the tiger, "Silly creature, you best stand aside. I am the most dangerous of all the animals, and if you strain my patience you will suffer my fang. Think I'm bluffing? Then follow me."

So the tiger follows the fox into the woods, and all the other animals scatter in fear. Abashed, the tiger thanks the fox for his tolerance and walks away in apology.

--- Chinese Fable