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Blue Snake Books Top 3 Recommended E-Books

December 23, 2011

Our reading habits are changing drastically, evidenced by the fact that one in six Americans now own e-readers. Reduce some of the stress of the season. If you’re running behind on your holiday shopping list, why not purchase an e-book as a last-minute gift for a friend, family member, or even yourself!

For the week of December 19th, NAB Communities will be recommending the top 3 e-books for each community. Will you be purchasing any e-books as gifts for the holidays?

On the Warrior’s Path: Philosophy, Fighting, and Martial Arts Mythology by Daniele Bolelli

The urge to forge one’s character by fighting, in daily life as well as on the mat, appeals to something deep within us. More than a collection of fighting techniques, martial arts constitute a path to developing body, spirit, and awareness. On the Warrior’s Path connects the martial arts with this larger perspective, merging subtle philosophies with no-holds-barred competition, Nietzsche with Bruce Lee, radical Taoism and Buddhism with the Star Wars Trilogy, traditional martial arts with basketball and American Indian culture. At the center of all these phenomena is the warrior. Though this archetype seems to manifest contradictory values, author Daniele Bolelli describes the heart of this tension: how the training of martial technique leads to a renunciation of violence, and how overcoming fear leads to a unique freedom. Aimed at students at any level or tradition of martial arts but also accessible to the armchair warrior, On the Warrior’s Path brings fresh insights to why martial arts remains an enduring and widespread art and discipline. Two new chapters in this second edition focus on spirituality in the martial arts and the author’s personal journey in the field.

Taijiquan: Through the Western Gate by Rick Barrett

Written specifically for the Western practitioner, Taijiquan: Through the Western Gate blends modern science and philosophy with the traditional wisdoms—drawn from classic t’ai chi literature—that underlie Chinese martial arts. Author Rick Barrett authoritatively describes a wide range of movements, practices, and positions in the context of such topics as being in the zone, effortless power and force versus power, the whole-body energetic connection, instant meditation, and energetic coherence. Step-by-step exercises help make this sometimes daunting discipline simple and accessible.

Kurikara: The Sword and the Serpent by John Maki Evans

Kurikara: The Sword and the Serpent sets out the eight basic principles of swordsmanship common to all Japanese sword schools, emphasizing the cultivation of power and mental focus. Accomplished martial artist John Evans provides practical examples from his experience with the sword arts as well as Mikkyo and shugendo (mountain asceticism). The first foreign student to train with Nakamura Taisaburo sensei—widely acknowledged as the master of the sword art battodo—Evans clearly explains how skill such as Nakamurua sensei’s can be systematically developed through tanren, exercises that meld “inner” and “outer” power. Filled with fascinating anecdotes from Evans’s training in Japan, Kurikara is a useful, inspiring guide to Japanese sword practice and its spiritual underpinnings.

Origins Series: Taekwondo

August 19, 2011

Have you ever wondered where different disciplines of martial arts came from, what inspired them, and even why certain weapons were created? The goal of our new Origins Series is to uncover the history and origins of some of your favorite martial arts disciplines, methods, and weapons.

The first time I heard the word “Taekwondo” I was 9 years old. I was watching the Nickelodeon cartoon Rocket Power, and the nebbishy character Sam Dullard, affectionately nicknamed “Squid,” was just about to sneak out his bedroom window when he heard a strange noise emanate from the bushes. “Get away — I know Taekwondo!” he yelled, only to discover that it was only his neighbor’s cat. The resurrection of this funny, random, and strangely clear memory of my introduction to Taekwondo prompted me to do two things this morning: A) research what other fictional characters are masters of “the art of the foot and fist,” and B) write a blog post to enlighten others as to the origins of this ultra-popular form of martial arts. For starters, did you know that Batman, Neo from The Matrix, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Miss Piggy are all lethal taekwondo masters? I’ll allow Blue Snake author Giles R. Savoie to explain the finer points of the national sport of Korea with this excerpt from his book, Taekwondo: A Technical Manual.

“Taekwondo History”

For thousands of years, the Korean martial art of taekwondo has been practiced as a martial art, as a sport, and for selfdefense. Buddhist principles and combat techniques come together in taekwondo, an art that values fighting abilities as well as mental discipline.

In the beginning, approximately four thousand years ago, people practiced taekwondo as a means to defend themselves against animal attacks. To do so, they developed powerful fighting techniques that could be projected in different directions. A painting found on a tombstone erected in 37 BC in the Koguryo kingdom, which covered what is now southern Manchuria and the northern Korean Peninsula, clearly depicts two young men engaged in a taekwondo match.

Wanting to entertain his people, the king of the Paekje kingdom, situated along the Han River on the Korean Peninsula from 18 BC to AD 600, organized taekwondo demonstrations. These activities were enjoyed both by soldiers and other citizens. Taekwondo gained great popularity in the kingdom of Silla, which was in the southeast part of the Korean Peninsula from 57 BC to AD 936. After having conquered the kingdom of Paekje in 668 and Koguryo in 670, Silla unified the three kingdoms, which Silla and its successors maintained for three hundred years. King Jinheung was responsible for unifying the three kingdoms and organizing a military group, the Hwa Rang Do. Military, educational, and social values were taught to the young noblemen who made up the Hwa Rang Do, and they devoted themselves to the development of their minds and bodies to better serve their kingdom. Their martial spirit was a source of inspiration for the whole nation. They followed a code of honor that included loyalty to the nation, respect and obedience to their parents, courage during combat, and wisdom when using force or, when necessary, taking life. This code of honor is present in a different form today : in taekwondo training.

The study of unarmed combat increased in popularity during the Koryo dynasty (935 to 1392). In this period the martial art was called Soo Bak Do, and it was practiced as a sport with detailed rules as well as a form of martial art with a military purpose. The masters of Soo Bak Do used scientific principles to improve the fighting techniques of the art. Soo Bak Do’s popularity allowed the royal family to support and encourage its practice, and often those who distinguished themselves in the art were favored or promoted in both civil and military matters. The Koryo king organized Soo Bak Do events and demonstrations each year. At the end of the Koryo dynasty, Buddhism was no longer the state religion ; King Taejo, founder of the Yi dynasty in 1392, chose Confucianism instead, and consequently the importance of military training, physical conditioning, and the ability to defend the nation was diminished. With the adoption of Confucian ideas, new importance was placed on learning classical Chinese culture, while physical activities were underappreciated. The result was that men of higher social classes now passed the time by reading Chinese classical texts, composing poetry, and practicing music ; physical activities were only practiced by lower-class men. Taekwondo, known in those days by the name Tae Kyon, was losing popularity. Military officers received no recognition at the social or political level. The situation was the exact opposite of what it had been in the previous dynasty.

A change was soon to come with the arrival of King Chongjo, who showed interest in martial arts. In 1790 he ordered General Lee Duck Mu to compile a manual on all martial arts that existed in Korea. This manual rapidly became a classic. Even with his involvement, King Chongjo did not succeed in reversing the disinterest that his people showed for martial arts. But thanks to his manual, the techniques of the martial arts were preserved for future generations. With this disinterest in martial arts and an emphasis instead on military activities, neglect of national defense continued during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There were no organized martial arts schools, and techniques were taught by father to son or by instructors to disciples in secret. The weakness of the military  made the country vulnerable. In 1909, Japan invaded Korea and took control. During the occupation, martial arts were forbidden. Having no arms to defend themselves, some Koreans continued to practice Tae Kyon in secret, and in this way Tae Kyon continued to survive and became even stronger. It was an important tool for Koreans to maintain their identity, values, and courage.

Along with the invasion, Koreans came into contact with a Japanese martial art, karate, as well as other Chinese martial arts. Many of their techniques were incorporated into Tae Kyon by Koreans, creating different styles of the art built on the principles of the Tang Soo Do and Kong Soo Do martial arts. After the liberation of Korea in 1945, Koreans were again able to practice their martial arts openly. The Japanese occupation had considerably modified the Korean martial arts, and so many masters were reunited to combine the different styles developed during the occupation ; this was an effort to recover traditional Tae Kyon as it had been prior to the influence of Japanese karate or Chinese styles on Korean culture. After many years of meetings and debates, the directors of the six most influential Korean schools came to an agreement on standardizing the technical teaching methods. Taekwondo was the name chosen to represent this new martial art. In Korean, tae means strikes delivered with the feet, kwon means strikes delivered with the fists, and do means the martial philosophy, the way of life.

As the country was now free, taekwondo could develop at the level of a sport. In October 1962 it was made an official activity at the Forty-third Korean National Games. In 1964 Master Chong Lee came to Canada to teach this martial art. He opened various schools in Quebec that extended into neighboring provinces and nurtured many world champions. Master Gilles R. Savoie became his student and later developed this martial art on the GaspeÅL Peninsula in the eastern part of Quebec. In January 1971 Dr. Un Young Kim was elected president of the Korean Taekwondo Association. He was deeply involved in the development of the discipline and wanted to raise awareness of taekwondo and make it the Korean national sport. In May 1973 he organized the World Taekwondo Federation to structure the evolution of the art to an international level. Under his presidency, the Kukkiwon was built in Seoul. The name means “national sports institute,” and the Kukkiwon became the world taekwondo training headquarters.

In 1975 the World Taekwondo Federation became official at the General Assembly of International Sports Federations. Taekwondo became an official sport at the International Military Sports Council in 1976. And in 1980 taekwondo was elevated to an Olympic sport by the International Olympic Committee. On June 11, 2004, Dr. Chungwon Choue was nominated president of the World Taekwondo Federation. He created a reform committee with the goal of making the sport more exciting and appealing to global audiences by revamping the sport’s world governing body. Taekwondo enjoys wide popularity mainly due to the visibly spectacular feats in sparring, board-breaking demonstrations, and self-defense. We also now know that Buddhist techniques of meditation and concentration elevated taekwondo to a superior level from that of a simple sport.

Taekwondo is an official discipline in the Pan-American Games and in the Olympic Games. Its spiritual side, its relationship with meditation techniques, and its nonviolent Buddhist principles intrigue and attract more and more enthusiasts. In the modern world, where stress takes an increasing toll on us and with self realization hard to attain, traditional taekwondo has the potential to extend its history for the well-being of its enthusiasts.

Origins Series – Ba Gua Zhang

July 22, 2011

Have you ever wondered where different disciplines of martial arts came from, what inspired them, and even why certain weapons were created? The goal of our new Origins Series is to uncover the history and origins of some of your favorite martial arts disciplines, methods, and weapons.

Internal martial arts, known in Chinese as “Neijia”, are styles of self defense that focus on the mental and spiritual aspects of one’s state. A focus on one’s qi — one’s internal energy — is central to the practice of these forms, which originated as non-violent meditations in Taoist monasteries. One of the most popular of these internal movement practices is Ba Gua Zhang. Literally meaning “eight trigram palm,” it refers to the trigrams of the I Ching, one of the oldest canonical texts in Taoism. Don’t fret if you’re just now realizing how rusty your Chinese vocabulary is. Allen Pittman offers historical background and an entirely new perspective on Ba Gua Zhang for Western novices in Walking the I Ching: The Linear Ba Gua of Gao Yi Sheng by revealing that Ba Gua Zhang need not be performed in circular motions. For a more demonstrable definition of Ba Gua Zhang check out the video above from Jet Li’s 2001 film The One. As a meditative practice not intended to harm opponents, Ba Gua Zhang is a number one choice for Chinese martial art film choreographers!

From History and Philosophy – “Legendary Origin”

The earliest combat training, recorded in the Chou dynasty (ca. 1111–256 B.C.) included archery, wrestling, and sword fighting. The Taoist text known as the I Ching (“Book of Changes”) appeared even earlier (ca. 1150 B.C.) and its influence pervaded Chinese culture, penetrating military strategy, philosophy, and physical culture. In the period of the Spring and Autumn Annals (722–482 B.C.), professional warriors appeared among the nobility and another Taoist classic, the Tao Te Ching (literally translated “The Way and Virtue”), surfaced.

During the Warring States period (403–221 B.C.), knight-errantry arose and fighting techniques spread from professional warriors and the nobility to commoners and foot soldiers. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is traced to this period. The martial (or military) techniques began to branch into methods of civilian self-defense. Much of what remains today is not martial (i.e., is not designed for the battlefield). Coincident with the martial–to–civilian combat transition in China was the development of the yoga systems of India. These may well have influenced early Chinese martial arts. The movement of traditional wisdom along the Silk Road allowed for cross-pollination of combative techniques, methods of concentration, medicine, and philosophical theories. During the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 220), the first references to chivalry appeared in Chinese poetry. Later, chivalry became a significant part of boxing ethics. In the Han Dynasty reference was made to “Six Chapters on Hand Fighting,” which represented the earliest reference to pugilism in China. In the later (or Eastern) Han Dynasty (A.D. 25–220), the physician Hua-T’o taught “Five Animal Exercises,” movements derived from animals to promote health and longevity. These hygienic influences also became a part of Chinese boxing.

According to tradition, a Buddhist missionary called Tamo came from India to Honan Province during the Southern and Northern Dynasties (A.D. 386–589). Though legendary, this event is taken seriously by Chinese scholars. There, at the Shaolin temple, he taught Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism and physical exercises to balance the long hours of sitting meditation. According to tradition, in the Sung Dynasty (A.D. 960–1279) the first emperor, Tai Tzu, created a method of boxing called Chang Ch’uan (Long Boxing). During this same period, Chen Hsi-I of Shansi Province is credited with creating a method called Liu-Ho Ch’uan (Six Harmony Boxing), and General Yueh Fei taught his troops Hsing- I Ch’uan (Form-Intent Boxing). Legend also speaks of a Taoist adept, Chang San-Feng, who lived during the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368–1644) and taught a new form called Nei Chia (Inner School), which included the system called T’ai Chi Ch’uan (Great Ultimate Boxing). Tradition connects the “Outer School” to Tamo and Buddhism and the “Inner School” to Chang San-Feng and Taoism. The differences between the two pertain primarily to training: Nei means “inner,” which in a boxing context are skills using Chin or “consciously directed” strength; Wai means “outer,” and uses Li, or skills forged from specialized muscular training (like the forged strength of a farmer’s handshake).

The highly coordinated strength of the Nei Chia (“inner family”) methods develops the muscles, tendons, fascia, and organs through movement of the whole body and mind. This holistic strength, or Chin, develops through movements that activate the whole body. It involves the whole person and develops a visceral understanding of body mechanics. Because sports are highly specialized, development of internal qualities is often uncertain.

Wai, or “outside,” implies the outer musculature and physical conditioning associated with weight training. It is quickly developed through movements that isolate the musculature, conditioning it in a specific way. Such training sometimes breaks the unity of the bodymind nexus and shapes it in strict accordance to task. In contrast to this, Ba Gua—a Nei Chia discipline—deliberately involves the integration of all aspects of the human being.

In more recent history, during the Warlord period (1917–1927), bodyguards, some of whom were highly skilled boxers, formed companies. Their notoriety caused an increase of popularity in the practice of Chinese combatives.

Click HERE to check out the last post in the “Origins Series”.

And read more on Ba Gua Zhang HERE!

Origins Series – Wudang Sword

July 15, 2011

Have you ever wondered where different disciplines of martial arts came from, what inspired them, and even why certain weapons were created? The goal of our new Origins Series is to uncover the history and origins of some of your favorite martial arts disciplines, methods, and weapons.

Wudang Sword — it’s a form of Chinese swordplay that can be described as nothing other than graceful, beautiful and powerfully awe-inspiring. The first images to be conjured in the minds of many Americans are the spectacular dueling scenes in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, the most famous example of Wudang Sword to sweep across the United States. However, if you have yet to watch the video above, I highly recommend you do so before continuing. To see masters of this art in action is to witness a ballet of cool, calculated warfare; each movement of the limbs and swish of the blade is exact, and potentially deadly. However, Blue Snake Books’ mission to safely demystify the secrets of martial arts continues with Dr. Lu Mei-hui’s translation of Huang Yuan-xiou’s explanation of this ancient form in The Major Methods of Wudang Sword. This respected school of swordplay is not meant to be practiced by the undedicated, so do yourself a favor and read up on the origins of Wudang Sword before hunting down your own sword on Craigslist?

From the Translator’s Introduction: “A Brief History of Wudang Sword of the Dan Sect”

Wudang Sword is arguably the most famous and respected style of swordplay in China’s history. It has a lineage reaching back more than five hundred years to the Ming dynasty, has been written about in dozens of Chinese martial arts novels, and has been featured in many Gong Fu movies, most notably Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There are numerous styles of swordplay originating from Wudang Mountain.

Of these styles, the techniques originating from the Dan Pai (Dan sect) of Wudang are respected as a treasure in the martial arts world. However, even with all of this notoriety in China, the Wudang Sword of Dan Pai is still a relative mystery in the West. With this short introduction, we hope
to shed a little light on what Dan Pai Wudang Sword is and exactly where it came from.

Swordplay is a major technique on Wudang Mountain, as the straight sword (jian) is used in many Daoist rituals. Since Wudang Mountain is a Daoist holy site, the sword is a commonly seen tool. Originally the sword was a focusing tool for the priest when performing traditional rituals and ceremonies. Gradually it was used more and more as a weapon that the Daoist monks could always carry with them.

There are numerous styles of swordplay originating from Wudang Mountain, all of them great in their own way. Wudang Sword from the Dan Pai of Wudang was created on the mountain, which is in China’s Hubei Province, by the great Daoist master Zhang San-feng. This master is also reputed to have created Taiji Quan as well as many internal cultivation techniques. Because of this, Zhang San-feng is a legendary character in internal martial arts as well as Chinese martial arts as a whole.

Zhang San-feng took nine disciples, and each became the head of his own branch of Wudang martial arts. The original nine branches were represented by the Chinese characters zi, zhu, ji, fu, jian, qi, fu, chou, and dan. These nine branches, or pai in Chinese, not only had different names but also had different techniques. The first three pai focused on nei gong, cultivating internal power. The next three focused exclusively on the use of throwing knives. The last three pai, including Dan Pai, focused on Wudang Sword techniques.

The techniques of Dan Pai Wudang Sword are extremely rich. Although the lineage holders of Wudang Dan Pai were wandering Daoists and thus did not belong to any single temple, the sword techniques that encompass the system were practiced by Daoists in the temples as well. Wudang Sword techniques of Dan Pai originally focused on the skill of reaction and improvisation in combat when it came to the movements. Therefore, one of the ultimate methods of practice was an improvised solo practice form that utilized all the techniques in the system in a free-flowing manner. This was called Wu Jian, or Dancing Sword. This method of practice still exists today, although it can only be attempted after learning the other solo sets that teach the practitioner how to wield the sword.

Another coveted practice method in the Wudang Sword arsenal is Fei Jian, or Flying Sword, in which the sword practitioner employs the use of throwing daggers in the shape of tiny swords to attack foes from a distance.

The first-generation lineage holder of Wudang Dan Pai was Zhang Song-xi. From Zhang Song-xi, the art was passed down through the generations. While each lineage holder of Wudang Dan Pai may have taught many students, each master only took one disciple as his successor. The eighth-generation lineage holder of Wudang Dan Pai was Zhang Ye-he, and he broke with tradition to take the first non-Daoist monk as his successor. That disciple was Song Wei-yi. Song Wei-yi’s Wudang Sword was quite incredible. Every day he would practice his sword techniques with both a regular-sized sword and a six-foot-long sword, and his Flying Sword techniques were famous. Song Wei-yi passed his art on to Li Jing-lin, who became the most famous swordsman in China during the early twentieth century.

Li Jing-lin, nicknamed “Immortal Sword Li,” was known throughout China as a master swordsman, often winning duels against other sword masters of the time. He was a general in the military as well as a leader in the martial arts community. He was also one of the creators of the Nanjing Central Martial Arts Academy, the most famous and influential martial arts school during the Republican era in China, and was one of the chief coordinators behind the first national Chinese martial arts fighting competition in 1929.

Li Jing-lin had begun practicing martial arts when he was young, as he came from a martial arts family. Later on, when he was attending military academy in Baoding in 1905, he was introduced to Song Wei-yi and was fortunate enough to train with him in Dan Pai Wudang Sword. Li Jing-lin learned many techniques from Song Wei-yi and was eventually chosen by him to become the tenth-generation successor of Wudang Dan Pai. Li Jing-lin used his previous knowledge of swordplay to complement his Dan Pai Wudang Sword and added many techniques to his Dan Pai swordplay; this was in accordance with other masters of Dan Pai, who had added techniques to their system from other popular sword styles of the time. What set Li Jing-lin apart, however, was the vast amount of knowledge he had of other sword systems. Besides training with Song Wei-yi, he undoubtedly trained with other people in various other sword styles. Li Jing-lin was a sword expert who devoted his life to researching and improving on the art of Wudang Sword.

Li Jing-lin left a great mark on Wudang Sword. He popularized Wudang Sword in China and made it very well respected in the martial arts world. Before Li Jing-lin, Wudang Sword was known, but not many people had actually seen it, as it was practiced only by monks and hermits. Li Jing-lin was also a great innovator of martial arts. Besides teaching the traditional Wudang Sword forms and techniques, he also created several forms of swordplay as well as adding to previous traditional sets in an attempt to make his art more accessible to students. The first form passed on to disciples was Xing Jian, or Continuous-Stepping Sword, which incorporated the stepping from Bagua Zhang and made it easier for disciples to get to the stage of practicing Wu Jian. The second form was Dui Jian, or Two-Person Dueling Sword, to improve the disciples’ understanding of Wudang swordfighting applications.

Another form passed down was Liu Lu Wudang Jian or Six-Section Wudang Sword. This form was rarer than other sets as it was not passed down to as many people. Because of all the forms of Wudang Sword that were introduced by Li Jing-lin, his successors had a multitude of techniques to learn. Some of them specialized in the Dui Jian forms; others focused on the solo sets. Because Li Jing-lin had learned so many forms, students who trained with him at different times would learn different sets. Some people learned Xing Jian, while others learned Liu Lu Wudang Jian. After Li Jing-lin died, his students carried on the art form that they had been taught, creating their own sub-branches.

In Beijing, Li Yu-lin, one of Li Jing-lin’s later disciples, continued to teach the sword techniques of Dan Pai. He was taken as a disciple by Li Jing-lin in Hangzhou in 1929. Li Yu-lin passed the system on to his son, Li Tian-ji, who wrote many books on Wudang Sword and Chinese martial arts. His specialization was Wudang Taiji Sword and Wudang Dui Jian, on which he published a book, Wudang Jian Shu (The Art of Wudang Sword).

In Changzhou, Li Jing-lin’s top disciple, Yang Kui-shan, passed on the system he learned from his master. Yang Kui-shan had been taken as a disciple by Li Jing-lin in 1920 in Tianjin. He was the first disciple taken by Li Jing-lin and later served as Li Jing-lin’s second in command and personal bodyguard. After 1926, as Li Jing-lin gradually became busier, it became Yang Kui-shan’s job to teach Li Jing-lin’s disciples when Master Li did not have time. To further improve the abilities of his disciples, Li Jing-lin sent Yang Kui-shan to train with numerous other masters in various styles of Wushu. Because of this, Yang Kui-shan was able to train with masters such as Shang Yun-xiang, Li Shu-wen, and Sun Lu-tang, among others. Yang Kui-shan passed down Wudang Xing Jian and Dui Jian as well as numerous other bare-hand and weapons forms, as his specialization was in Wudang Xing Jian and he was an expert in bare-hand and weapons combat. He passed his system to Qian Timing, Wu Zhi-quan, Chang Ming-xiang, and Sha Ming-xi. Unfortunately, due to his poor level of literacy, Yang Kui-shan never published any material on the art his master had passed on to him. However, his disciples and grand-disciples have published more than one hundred articles in China and the United States on the system he taught.

In Tianjin, Meng Xiao-feng taught the sword techniques of Li Jing-lin. Meng Xiao-feng was a general in the military and was good friends with Li Jing-lin. From Li Jing-lin he learned the traditional six-section form of Wudang Sword, the Dui Jian fighting form, as well as the knife-throwing technique, Fei Jian. Meng Xiao-feng passed all of these techniques to his single successor, Ma Jie. Meng Xiao-feng wrote a book titled Wudang Jian Pu (The Song of Wudang Sword), which he passed on only to his successor, Ma Jie.

The author of this book, Huang Yuan-xiou, was taken as a disciple by Li Jing-lin in 1929 in Hangzhou. He was already a well-known martial artist at the time, and his specialization was in Wudang Dui Jian. Although he did not train with Li Jing-lin as long as some of the other disciples did, he was able to get a firm understanding of the fundamental techniques of the system. He was highly educated and was able to pick up the techniques taught to him in a short amount of time. Huang Yuan-xiou made a great achievement in the art of Wudang Sword by publishing this book. It was the first of its kind to show actual photographs of practitioners applying the art of Wudang Sword in combat. He passed his system on to Chen Zhao-xiang, Jiang Guang-hua, Yeh Jing-cheng, and Sheng Zhong-tai.

Of the modern masters of Wudang Sword in China, one of the highest is Ma Jie of Tianjin. Master Ma Jie, born in 1925, was trained from the age of six as a Daoist monk, and at the age of eight he became a disciple on Wudang Mountain. After mastering the internal martial arts of Taiji Quan, Bagua Zhang, and Xingyi Quan, he met and was taken on as a successor to Meng Xiao-feng. Although he was injured during the Cultural Revolution in China, Master Ma was still chosen as successor by Meng Xiao-feng because of his love of and dedication to martial arts. Master Ma used the techniques of Wudang martial arts to heal himself when no doctor would treat him. After practicing for some time, he was able to heal completely.

From Meng Xiao-feng he learned the Wudang Sword solo set as well as Dui Jian. In addition, Master Ma learned Wudang Fei Jian. In China, he has written numerous articles on Wudang Sword and published a bestselling book. Master Ma has taken thirty-two disciples. Among them are
the translator and commentator of this book, Lu Mei-hui and Chang Wu Na, who are his closed-door disciples and global representatives.

Another famous modern master of Wudang Sword is Qian Timing, who was born in 1929 and was taken as disciple by Li Jing-lin’s top disciple, Yang Kui-shan, after suffering a life-threatening illness. After training for some time, Master Qian recovered completely and decided to commit himself to training in this system. For more than fifty years he honed his Gong Fu until, in his seventies, he finally began teaching openly with the help of his disciples, Chang Wu Na, Lu Mei-hui, Ji Rong-huang, and Shi Zao-guo. From Yang Kui-shan he learned Wudang Free-Step Taiji Quan, Wudang Bagua Zhang, and various weapon sets in addition to Wudang Sword. Master Qian won two Grand Lion Gold Medals in the National Martial Arts Competition held on Wudang Mountain, in 1986 and 1989. He has published over fifty articles on Wudang Sword and martial arts in China and the United States. In addition, he has published several bestselling books on Wudang Dan Pai martial arts in China. Master Qian has taken more than twenty disciples, but has only passed the complete art of Wudang Sword to a select few. Among these top disciples are Chang Wu Na and Lu Mei-hui.

The Major Methods of Wudang Sword, originally published in 1931, was a landmark for the art of Wudang Sword. At that time it was only the second book ever published on the art of Wudang Sword; the first ha been written earlier by Li Jing-lin’s master, Song Wei-yi. It was also the first book to show actual photographs of practitioners of Wudang Sword using their art in combat situations. In addition to these milestones, this book is important in another way. It was, and remains, the only book written from the direct teachings of Li Jing-lin during Li Jing-lin’s lifetime. Although the author Huang Yuan-xiou was taken as a disciple toward the end of Li Jing-lin’s life, he had direct exposure to Li Jing-lin as well as several of Li Jing-lin’s top disciples. More than simply a book based on the teachings of Li Jing-lin, this is a student’s personal manual of what he was being taught at the time.

For more books on swordsmanship click HERE!

The Bridge Between East and West: Robert W. Smith Remembered (1926-2011)

July 8, 2011

Robert W. SmithFor over two generations Americans have indulged in countless cultural phenomenons rooted in the influence of Eastern martial arts. Bruce Lee, Kung Fu Panda, Jackie Chan and the thousands of adolescent Americans enrolled in karate courses are just a few examples that come to mind; the list is too extensive to complete in a single blog post. The bottom line is simple:  many Americans feel martial arts is as much a part of Western culture as it is a part of Eastern tradition. However, the countless forms of martial arts we are familiar with today may not have become so universal without the writings of Robert W. Smith — the martial arts pioneer that bridged the East and West. He passed on July 1st, 2011.

Robert William Smith is credited as an important factor in the rapid spread of interest in Asian martial arts such as judo, karate, and taijiquan into the postwar United States. Born on a farm in Iowa on December 27, 1926, Robert was sent to an orphanage at the age of 3 where he cultivated a love for reading an writing. At the age of 17 he joined the U.S. Marines with whom he served diligently in the Pacific Theater. This was where he first learned of Judo. After the war he tenaciously enrolled in the Russian and Far Eastern Studies master’s program at University of Washington. In 1955 Robert joined the CIA writing team as an Intelligence Analyst. On his own volition he learned Chinese and in 1959 moved to Taiwan as an advisor to the Admiral of the Taiwan Defense Command.

Robert’s drive to learn never ceased. While in Taiwan he took it upon himself to indulge in the cultural complexities of Chinese martial arts. Following his heart, Robert trained under Professor Cheng Man-ch’ing as the first Western student to learn T’ai Chi Ch’uan. Rumors circulate throughout the martial arts community that Smith had to knock on Cheng’s door for half a year before the master would accept his first non-Chinese student. Robert’s motto in life was “wisdom leavened with love,” advice he followed throughout his training and beyond.

Robert’s importation of Eastern knowledge to The United States began in the 1950s with his contributions to such niche-market martial arts magazines as Budokwai Quarterly BulletinStrength and Health, Black Belt, and the Journal of Asian Martial Arts. He also served on the editorial board of Taijiquan Journal. During this time Robert also taught Chinese boxing and Taijiquan at his local YMCA where he amassed an extensive following of students. He taught this same class for 26 years. He continued to write books that dispelled the mysterious nature of martial arts and clarified the complexities of a misunderstood tradition for an increasingly interested American public. His first book on esoteric Chinese martial arts, Pa-Kua: Chinese Boxing for Fitness and Self Defense, was originally printed in 1967 and has remained in print as America’s interest in martial arts continues to skyrocket with every decade.

As an editor, author, co-author and co-translator, Robert produced 14 books, dozens of magazine articles, and wrote over 240 book reviews on a wide variety of topics for top newspapers across America.Three of Robert’s books, Chinese Boxing: Masters and Methods, Hsing-I: Chinese Mind-Body Boxing and, a reprint of his first book, Pa-Kua: Chinese Boxing for Fitness and Self Defense, are published by North Atlantic Books. He will be a dearly missed figure remembered for his lasting influence on both Eastern and Western martial arts traditions.

Kurikara: The Sword and the Serpent

July 1, 2011

Kurikara: The Sword and the Serpent

You are walking on an unfamiliar path when suddenly you happen upon a Japanese dojo. Through the doorway you notice that the room is empty, with the exception of a single rolled-up bamboo mat, standing upright. You step in, sit down, and empty your mind. Not a thought passes through your consciousness.

Silence.

Suddenly, you hear a quick swish followed by a dull thud. You open your eyes. The bamboo has been halved, and before you stands the embodiment of calm, calculated power: a master of kenjutsu, Japanese swordsmanship.

In Kurikara: The Sword and the Serpent, author John Maki Evans attempts to familiarize newcomers and enthusiasts of kenjutsu with the ancient techniques required to safely and impressively carry out demonstrations such as this. As the first foreign student to train with Nakamura Taisaburo, widely noted as the master of the sword art battodo, Evans provides a wealth of knowledge on the subject. However, the book is not simply an instruction manual for proper sword form. Evans is also highly versed in Mikkyo, Japansese esoteric Buddhism — expertise he uses in order to explain the importance of inner development as well as physical prowess. In fact, the title of this book, Kurikara, refers to a manifestation of the fierce bodhisattva Fudo Mo O (the patron of ascetics and warriors in Japan), who uses his sword to destroy delusions and sever attachments. He is a symbol of the internal energy developed through sword practice.

An example of the synthesis body, mind, and sword undergo:

On the first day of training, sword and human meet as alien objects; over time, they become one living thing. Eventually the blade will magnify and project the actions of the body, reflect mood and mindset, and ultimately reveal the pathway to the core of being.

John Evans is a fascinating character. Born in Oxford in 1954, he attended Oxford University, where he developed a deep interest in Shotokan karate. in the early 1980s he traveled to Japan, where he underwent the bulk of his sword training. After studying under numerous experts such as Danzaki Tomoaki, Yoshikawa Koichiro, Fushi Murata, and the aforementioned Nakamura Taisaburo, he returned to England, where he began to focus on bringing his rare knowledge to Westerners. To understand battodo, one requires a lifetime of rigorous mental and physical training; Evans’s training is never complete.

Currently available wherever books are sold, Kurikara will be released as an ebook on July 5 (less than a week away!). Preorder now!

Author Guest Blog: “Flexibility and the Secrets of Martial Arts”

June 17, 2011

Phillip Starr has authored four books on martial arts with Blue Snake Books, including his latest must-have guide, Hidden Hands: Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Martial Arts Forms. Starr shares his wisdom from over 50 years as a practitioner and teacher of martial arts in a monthly article on our blog, and writes books to help martial artists not only improve their skills on the mat, but strengthen their minds. For more information or to purchase Starr’s books, just click on their covers.

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“Flexibility and the Secrets of Martial Arts”

by Phillip Starr

“Flexibility and the Secrets of Martial Arts”

by Phillip Starr

Some time ago, I conducted a class for advanced and black belt students.  A couple of advanced (brown belt) pupils asked me about training more rigorously towards the coveted black belt grade and I agreed (enthusiastically, I might add) to focus more one-pointedly on their training.  One of the requirements I am demanding of them is this:

By the end of May (which was about two months away), you must be able to stand in a floating back stance (also known as a seven star stance, this position involves advancing one foot with the toe raised), bend over, and touch your elbow to your toes.

Yep.  They had about 8 weeks to get it done.  That means they’d have to stretch a LOT every day. Every day.  Way back when, many kung-fu teachers wouldn’t teach a pupil at all until he could do this.  Some required that you be able to place your foot on a stretching bar (about the height of a table or counter-top) and touch your chin to your toes.  True story.

Fortunately, my teacher wasn’t quite so demanding.  He only insisted that we be able to stand up straight and touch our palms to the floor (keeping the knees straight).  Most of my current students can’t do this but even at my age, I have no problem doing it.  So there.

There are several reasons for my requirement…

#1: It lets me know who really wants to learn and who doesn’t; which students are willing to do whatever it takes to learn, and which ones aren’t.  To be able to accomplish this stretching feat will require a great deal of daily practice.  If a person can’t or won’t put out the effort (and endure the discomfort) required to achieve it, they certainly won’t put out the effort required to learn advanced material (to develop real kung-fu).

#2: It will physically prepare them for advanced training.  Unless one maintains a certain basic level of flexibility, one’s speed, and hence, striking force, is seriously impaired.  Some advanced techniques and postures simply cannot be performed at all unless one has achieved a pretty fair level of physical flexibility.

#3: It will teach them (the truth of) one of the great secrets of martial arts and life.  And that is this; “To have a flexible body, you must also have a flexible mind.”

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?  But think about it…as you think, so you are.

“As a man thinketh, so he is.”
-Gautama Buddha

How you regard yourself, so will you be. How you think impacts not only your behavior towards yourself and others, but the condition of your physical body…and the realities, both physical and abstract, that you create for yourself.

A person who is mentally inflexible (decide for yourself what that means) is, by and large, going to be incapable of being able to perform this stretching feat.  This does not, however, mean that he can never achieve it.  If he will “stretch” (ie., loosen) his mind, as it were, he will be able to do it…with some considerable effort.

This simple exercise demonstrates how the way you use your mind affects your physical reality.  If a student REALLY wants to learn and manages to succeed in doing it, he will learn HOW to use his mind correctly.

This is a great secret.  Actually, it can be said to be a great secret technique.  It isn’t at all complicated and requires no real coordination, timing, or any of that sort of thing.  It isn’t hard to remember, either.  But how powerful it is!

Oh, yeah….there are no short cuts short of severing the tendons behind your knees.

Severing the “short cuts” in your mind is less painful.

Have a story to share from your martial arts journey? Share it in the comments, and you could win a set of Phillip Starr’s books!

Other must-have martial arts books from Philip Starr: