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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.


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.


“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:

Fighting for Veganism: New Diets in MMA

June 8, 2011

by Lily Prasuethsut

I’ve always been pegged as being small because I was a picky eater when I was younger. After becoming a vegetarian at age twelve and remaining under five feet tall, my petite stature was then blamed on not eating meat. Fast-forward ten years. I’m still a vegetarian, and I’m much smaller than my fourteen-year-old sister. Of course I never blamed my height on my choice (I blame genes actually) but relatives still bother me about my strange choice of straying from meat as the cause of my smallness. Imagine my surprise then when I read about a burgeoning emergence of vegetarianism and veganism in, of all places, mixed martial arts (MMA).

I know little of the professional fighting world, but it’s apparent that in addition to intensive training, nutrition and specific diets increase the potential of winning a match, not to mention putting on the needed weight. Upon further research, I came across interviews, diet plans, and even recipes of MMA fighters who have been vegetarian and vegan, converted to the dietary lifestyle, and many who have removed the emphasis from meat protein to vegetable and nut protein. A few of the names of such fighters I found were: Mac Danzig, James Wilks, Mike Mahler, Jon Fitch, Jake Shields, Nick Diaz, Nate Diaz, Ricardo Moreira, and Georgi Karakhanyan. I’ve included some interesting bits and pieces of interviews from some of the previously mentioned fighters to give a sense of how their eating habits have influenced their performance, matches, and lifestyle.

From with Jake Shields:

“I love proving people wrong. I’m not trying to preach to people to not eat meat, but I just like to show people there is an alternative.”

“I’ve grown up this way, so it’s what I’m used to…I feel great this way and I plan on staying a vegetarian. My whole life people trying to get me to eat meat, telling me I couldn’t be a top athlete like this.”

“It’s good to be an example that you can do what you want. James Wilks just went vegan, I think last month. He just called me and I know more and more guys are doing it. I think that’s pretty cool,” Shields said. “I’m starting a trend maybe.”

From www.PETA2 with Mac Danzig:

Has being vegan helped your training and helped you maintain your weight class?

Absolutely. When I decided to go vegan, I was able to make the 155-pound weight class much easier, and I haven’t lost an ounce of muscle. I’m leaner than I used to be, and I have much more energy than I used to.

What are your favorite vegan foods generally, and what do you eat when you’re training?

When I’m not in training, I eat Soy Delicious ice cream and vegan chocolate chip cookies like they’re going out of style. There’s also some awesome vegan restaurants out here in L.A., like Native Foods, that have great vegan pizza. When I’m in training, I eat a lot of brown rice, tofu, oatmeal, and of course lots of vegetables and fruit.

From www.PETA2 with Ricardo Moreira:

How’d you get started in MMA?

I grew up doing Kenpo Karate. And eventually I competed in full contact karate. In March of 2007, I competed in the first legitimate MMA event in San Francisco. And I was the first event on that card, so in essence, I am the first MMA fighter to get in the cage in San Fran history. I had just become a vegan too! I thought I was the only vegan fighter doing this, until I came across Mac Danzig. That was really refreshing to know there were other people out there doing this.

What kind of feedback do you get from other MMA fighters about being vegan?

Not too many people give me a hard time. I’ve trained with a lot of guys who are vegetarians and there’s a lot of attention paid to individual diets. Everyone understands that fighters do different things to get ready for fights. Lots of fighters eat similar diets to make weight for fights. Living in San Francisco helps a lot too. This is a veg friendly area. I think people are a little more open minded and understanding.

From with Mike Mahler:

I understand that beans, lentil, quinoa, etc. all contain a pretty complete amino acid profile, but up against a piece of grilled chicken can it really compare?

Yes, when you combine legumes with nuts and seeds you’re creating a perfect protein meal and also a nice balance of protein, fat, and carbs. Meat is loaded with a lot of toxins especially if the meat is not 100% organic. The animals are fed garbage and then you eat the animals. Eating unhealthy animals and thinking that it is healthy is asinine. Protein is essentially a source of amino acids. Your body does not care what the source is whether a vegan source or meat source.  You can certainly give your body what it needs on a vegan diet and make it work as I have.

How many meals do you supplement/replace with rice protein powder or other vegan supplements?

On training days I have two protein shakes per day. I eat light during the day and then have my main meal at night. This is an eating style that I picked up from my friend Ori Hofmekler, author of The Warrior Diet. A typical day for me is a protein super shake in the morning after my morning cardio workout. This may consist of two scoops of sun warrior rice protein, 1 cup of frozen fruit, 4oz of light coconut milk, 1 tablespoon of Udo’s oil, ¼ teaspoon of ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and 8oz of water. This super shake gets me through most of the day. I like protein shakes for breakfast, as they are easy to assimilate. I do not want to waste a lot of energy on digestion when I am busy and active.  I have another protein shake thirty minutes after my evening strength training workouts. This shake is similar to the one I have in the morning.


“There is no way that you can get big and strong on a vegan diet! I used to hear this all the time from my meat-eating friends. I say, used to as I never hear it anymore from people that know me or from people that have seen my photos on my website. Yes my friends, you can in fact get bigger and stronger on a vegetarian diet. You can even do it on a vegan diet (no animal products whatsoever). Just because the pot smoking, rice dream eating hippie vegetarian in Venice Beach, CA looks like he has not eaten in a month, does not mean that every vegan does. I have the strength and size to back up the fact that you can get strong and have a muscular body on a vegan diet and I am far from being the only one.”

From with Georgi Karakhanyan:

What do you say to fellow fighters who say, “You can’t fight if you’re a vegetarian!”

I would tell them, “I don’t need to eat meat to kick their ass!”

That last quote is now one of my favorites. From the interviews I’ve read, it seems like a good number of fighters are turning to a vegetarian and vegan diet with great success. These guys are highly trained – and rather frighteningly enormous – vegetarians and vegans. Amazing. Take that relatives; it goes to show that you don’t need animal products to be a big and healthy champion.

Author Guest Blog: “Suggesting an Attitude”

March 9, 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.



“Suggesting an Attitude”

by Phillip Starr

Many eons ago when John Morrow was my student, an interesting incident took place. But before I take you back to those ancient times, you have to know something about Mr. Morrow. John was (and still is) built like a fireplug and stronger than most oxen. To this day, he boasts a large chest and back and a pair of arms that seem to be made of iron and legs that look like they’re carved out of granite. To say that he’s “in shape” would be a laughable understatement. A couple of years back, I spent a couple of days with John and his wonderful wife, Kate, and watched in horror as John led his class through a series of “warm-up” calisthenics prior to training. These consisted of various forms of push-ups, V-ups, crunches, and several exercises which must have been developed by some terribly sadistic and very bored guard in the gulag. John is only one year younger than me, but his students, many of whom were in their twenties and in very good shape, simply could not keep up with him. At the end of the “warm-up” most of them were sucking wind but John wasn’t even breathing hard and was raring to go. Made me envious…

Now imagine what he was like 30 years ago.

John’s fists usually sported solid callouses on his punching knuckles and his hands were like iron. In demonstrations he would often shatter boards, bricks, cement blocks (not haydite) and anything else that got in his way. He once killed a large hog by punching it between the eyes, but that’s another story…however, those of you who have spent time on farms know that the front of a hog’s skull is very thick and it is said that they simply cannot be brought down with a blow delivered there…

One day, as John and I were sitting on our duffs in the old training hall in Ottumwa, Iowa, two men came in. One had a board and asked John if he could break it. Martial arts were still new to that part of the country and we used to get a LOT of wierdos through our doors. I was about to ask them to go elsewhere when John happily told them that he could indeed cut the board. He had one of the men hold it and with a single thrust, he halved the wood. Neither of us thought it was a big deal, but the two men were thrilled and left after promising they’d be back with more “stuff” for John to try.

On their third visit or so, they brought in a chunk of three-inch thick sewer-line ceramic pipe. In one blow, John shattered it…

Then they came in with more boards. I was tiring of this, but I saw a chance to teach John something. As he began to set up one of the boards to break it, I stopped him. “Wait!” I shouted. “There’s something different about that wood. Let me see it.” John handed me the board. I pretended to look at it carefully. “This isn’t pine,” I announced. I faked trying to leave a cut in it with my thumbnail…”Look, I can’t dig my nail into it. It looks like pine, but it isn’t.”

John examined it and asked what it might be since it sure looked like pine. “I’m not sure,” I said, “But I’ve seen this stuff before. Hard as iron. Don’t try to break it. You’ll just hurt your knuckles…” I kept this up for a couple of minutes, explaining how this board was extremely hard and could probably support a small car.

However, John wanted to try it. “Go ahead,” I said. “But you won’t break it, that’s for darned sure.” And so, after setting up the board, John chambered his fist and let it fly. WHACK! And his fist bounced off the board! This really shook him. It was then that I laughed and told him that I’d not been truthful; the board really was pine…I just wanted to demonstrate to him how his mind and attitude could dramatically affect his performance. He still wasn’t so sure and it took some convincing before he tried a second time. The board split easily as if it were balsa.

Many years later when I was teaching in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, my old friend, Dave Swenson stopped in. Dave and I have known each other since I was in college (he was a psychology professor at Columbia, Mo.). Dave is a highly accomplished psychologist and is also skilled in hypnotism. He has trained in Shorinji Kempo and is highly skilled in Taijiquan, having trained under the legendary T.T. Liang.

Anyway, he watched as I gave my “Intro to Qigong 101” lecture to a group of students. As I was teaching them the principles of the Unbendable Arm, Dave asked if he might join in. I was thrilled to have him help. We presented the basic principles of how to do it and Dave told the group, “OK. Try it.” They did. And every one of them failed! I was stunned, to say the least. My presentations on this subject had never, ever resulted in almost every student failing to perform this basic exercise! I was also terribly embarassed.

Dave walked over to me and grinned as I tried to apologize. “It’s OK. I gave them a suggestion. They’ll learn something from this.” I’m sure my eyebrows arched; I couldn’t imagine what he’d done until he explained it to the group. He had told them to “try it.” The key word was “try.” It implies that failure is a possibility. Dave had noticed that when I gave the presentation, I always said, “Now do it.” The word “do” does not leave open the possibility of failure. “Try” does.

There is much to be learned from these two experiences. On the one hand, they demonstrate the powerful effect the mind and our attitudes have on our training and our ability to learn. On the other hand, they demonstrate how powerfully influential a teacher can be. The wrong word(s) at the wrong time can have dramatic and even disastrous effects.

And we are all teachers and we teach all of the time.

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:

Cultivating Qi: Taiji Neigong

February 2, 2011

In her new book Cultivating Qi, Jun Wang includes step-by-step instruction in a set of Taiji Neigong (内功, inner work) exercises: thirty-four Taiji Quan movements adapted from the Wu-Hao style of Taiji Quan. This short form focuses on cultivating neijin (内劲, internal power) and can be used as the foundation for various internal and external martial arts. From the book:

Compared to other styles of Taiji Quan, Wu-Hao has a few unique strengths. First, the exercise is compact (jin cou, 紧凑), meaning that the scope of body movement is less than in other styles. (For example, the hands usually do not extend across the middle line of the body.) This compact style allows for a quiet mind and keeps Qi stored in the dantian area. Second, Wu-Hao Taiji emphasizes the dynamic of opening (kai, 开) and closing (he, 合). “Opening” implies not only outward physical extension but also issuing and releasing energy. In contrast, “closing” implies inward movements as well as relaxing and storing energy. Third, the steps of Wu-Hao Taiji teach nimble (ling huo, 灵活) movement, as the body turns in eight directions. This is called the hidden ba gua (八卦, eight trigrams) of this Taiji Neigong set.

For more information on Taiji Neigong, the history of Wu-Hao style, basic principles of practice, and step-by-step instruction in this set, check out the book! Cultivating Qi also includes instruction in Yi Jin Jing, an ancient form of Daoyin (healing exercise), and the Six Healing Breaths, a Qigong exercise.

Author Guest Blog: “The Mask”

January 7, 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. ________________________________________

“The Mask”

by Phillip Starr

When I began writing my first book, The Making Of A Butterfly, my wife and I were living in the tiny hamlet of Unionville, Iowa. This town of about a hundred people (dogs, cats, and chicken not included) is, as you’ve no doubt guessed, a rural village that is nestled unobtrusively in the rolling hills and dense woodlands of southeast Iowa. It consists of only two streets — Front Street, which sports a small mechanic’s shop and a post office, and Back Street, which, apparently not being zoned for commercial enterprises, is entirely residential. It is a very peaceful, quiet area that is inhabited largely by honest people who try to eke out a living by digging in the earth or working at nearby factories, or both. Or writing books.

I would often sit at my keyboard until the wee hours of the morning, working on my book and trying to decide whether or not I should insert a comma here or a semi-colon there. Believe me, it’s a lot tougher than you might think. Before long, I’d feel as if my brain was beginning to turn into some sort of exotic cheese, so I’d slap together a sandwich, grab a cup of coffee, and relax on the front porch. It was summer and evenings in the country are often cool and always refreshing. The absence of city lights makes the stars seem so much brighter and closer. There are no sirens, no rumbling of traffic, no squealing tires, flashing lights, or neon signs.

Thick woods sprang up no more than fifty yards behind our mobile home and it was not at all unusual to see small herds of deer crossing Front Street, which is where our home was located. Turkeys were a road hazard, and all manner of other woodland creatures frequented our backyard. And so it was that while I was enjoying a peanut butter and jelly sandwich one night, I heard a dull scraping sound off to my left. I didn’t want to frighten the critter, whatever it might be, so I kept relatively still and used my peripheral vision to observe what was happening.

I had set my sandwich down on a paper plate and it had attracted something. Within a few seconds I noticed two sets of small (but very sharp) claws coming up over the edge of the left side of the porch. Then, the top of a small head appeared and two eyes glittered from behind a black mask, fixing themselves on my sandwich. A raccoon!

I moved my hand slowly to the sandwich, noting that the raccoon quickly ducked down and scurried underneath the porch. I tore off a chunk of the sweet, jellied treat and pushed it over to the edge of the porch. Within a few seconds, the two sets of claws reappeared. The masked bandit peeked over the top of the porch, carefully eyed me, and then stretched out a paw and deftly seized the morsel of bread. In an instant he was gone, but within a few seconds he reappeared, looking for more.

“A little greedy, are we?” I said to him. “And gutsy, too. Alright, here’s another chunk.” I tore off more of the sandwich and pushed it over to the edge of the porch. It was gone almost instantly.

The raccoon and I continued our ritual every night for several weeks. Before long, he’d come running up onto the porch when he heard me step outside. He’d sit in my lap and eat out of my hand. He was particularly fond of marshmallows, bananas, and jelly sandwiches. I named him “Kemosabe,” after Tanto’s nickname for the Lone Ranger (if you’re too young to remember this stuff, go look it up; it’s what made America great).

Naturally, my wife was curious about seeing my masked friend, so she waited by the screen door one night as I stepped outside. Sure enough, Kemo came scrambling up the front steps towards me but he noticed that something was different. He stopped and looked at her carefully. Her hand went to her mouth to stifle a shout and Kemo took off like a shot. I asked her what she’d done and she said that she was scared of wild animals and had nearly squealed in fear.

The next night she tried it again, standing behind the safety of the door as she tossed a piece of jelly sandwich out onto the stoop but Kemo was having none of it. He wouldn’t come up onto the porch until she closed the door and the two of us were alone. Over the next few weeks several other people tried to feed my masked friend, but he wouldn’t come near them at all. He’d accept food and affection only from me.

I eventually shortened his name to “Kemo” and we enjoyed many wonderful meals and conversations. As you might imagine, I did most of the talking, but even so, Kemo taught me a great deal about…martial arts!

Yeah, I know…it sounds like maybe this old man has finally stepped over the edge, but listen up. You might learn something and there’ll be a quiz at the end of this essay.

I used to wonder why Kemo would only take food from me; why he’d run away when anyone else offered him food. It occurred to me that Kemo and I had developed a relationship only after I had been VERY patient with him over a period of time. The other folks hadn’t and he wanted no part of their generosity.

I think training is very much like that. How often have I seen students try to “hurry” the learning process and “force” themselves to memorize this or that form, increase power in their punch, and so on!

“I’m going to get this technique even if I have to practice it all night!” Sound familiar? Sure it does.

“I’m going to master this form even if it kills me!” Yeah…you bet.

That kind of determination is nice but it’s misdirected. You cannot force learning. You cannot hurry the development of real skill, just as you can’t rush the process of building a friendship with a raccoon. You have to take it a little at a time and learn to enjoy the journey! Accept the idea that you’ll get there…eventually. Maybe not today, probably not even next week or next month. But that’s okay. Enjoy the journey.

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:

The Judo Chop Seen Round the World

December 30, 2010

Vladimir Putin, the well-known Russian politician, recently held a demonstration of his elaborate knowledge and skill in the realm of judo. Onlookers watched with amazement as he sparred with various partners and receiving feedback from his coach. While the demonstration has caused many political debates around the world about Russia and its future leadership, one thing is certain—Putin’s passion for the Judo technique is unmatched.

Judo: History, Theory, Practice

by Vladimir Putin, Vasily Shestakov, and Alexy Levitsky

In Judo: History, Theory, Practice authors Vladimir Putin, Vasily Shestakov, and Alexy Levitsky present a detailed judo textbook useful for coaches, competitors, and all who are interested in this fascinating sport. The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is well-known for his life-long love of judo and brings all of his experience to bear in writing this manual.

208 pages, 8-1/2 x 11

Blue Snake Books


Higher Judo: Groundwork

by Moshe Feldenkrais, Edited by Elizabeth Beringer, Foreword by Dennis Leri, Michael Brousse and Moti Nativ

Higher Judo presents judo as the art of using all parts of the body to promote general health, and as part of the “basic culture of the body.” Dr. Moshe reveals judo’s potential for creating a sense of rhythm of movement and improving mental and physical coordination. Higher Judo covers specific movements and positions in both the text and the clear line drawings. Even more importantly, it shows how such groundwork can help practitioners develop their mental and physical awareness to their full potential.

288 pages, 5 x 8

Blue Snake Books


Judo in the US: A Century of Dedication

by Michael Brousse and David Matsumoto

Commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the United States Judo Federation, Judo in the US traces the more than 100-year history of judo practice in America. The authors begin with a comprehensive survey of Japan’s classical disciplines, which sets the foundation for understanding what judo is and what it means to the people who practice it. They show how, from its arrival on U.S. shores in the late nineteenth century, judo has built upon the strengths of the two societies it bridges. For martial arts practitioners and others interested in Asian and American cultural history, this thoroughly researched and richly illustrated book is an indispensable resource for understanding judo’s ongoing role in the contemporary life of the United States.

144 pages, 8-1/2 x 11
North Atlantic Books

Author Guest Blog: “Dress for Success”

December 2, 2010

September 3, 2010 by katengh

Phillip Starr has authored four books on martial arts with Blue Snake Books, including his latest 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.


“Dress for Success”

By Phillip Starr

Many years ago there was a book named Dress For Success which enjoyed considerable popularity. The author (whose name I can’t recall) noted, among other things, how one’s attitude was affected by the manner in which one was dressed. It sounds a little weird but over the years, I have found many of his assertions to be true and it’s one of the reasons I insist on students wearing a proper training uniform.

In general, it can be said that the condition of one’s practice uniform reflects one’s attitude towards training. If it looks like a used facial tissue; if it’s torn and in need of repair, or if the salt stains (from yesterday’s sweat) haven’t been washed out, it is a fairly accurate indication of how one regards oneself and one’s training.

A students who pays a lot of attention to detail — who is a stickler for sharp technique and who aims at perfection — will usually wear a uniform which is clean and pressed. You could almost cut your finger on the creases in their trousers.

At the other end of the spectrum is the student whose uniform has been wadded up and shoved into a practice bag for a couple of days. It has more wrinkles in it than an elephant’s butt and his attitude towards training will tend to be lackadaisical. His technique and form often leans towards the sloppy…like his uniform.

And then, of course, there are a lot of in-betweens.

Training in street clothes is common in many internal Chinese schools and I think this actually has an impact on their (the students’) approach towards training. Casual. That’s how they often regard it, but training time should be anything but casual. One must concentrate and give a full 100% of one’s attention to it.

In the old days (and even in modern China) most training was conducted outdoors. People gathered in parks to practice and so they naturally wore their everyday street clothes. That’s why most kung-fu stylists wear shoes.

But I think this kind of thing has had a negative impact on (Chinese) martial arts. For one thing, street-clothes don’t hold up very well to the rigors of strenuous practice. So, the teacher has a choice; he can water down the training so that the students don’t damage their clothes (and maybe themselves), or he can go ahead and conduct a vigorous class and end up with a bunch of half-naked students.

Due to the heat and humidity (especially in southern China), many kung-fu stylists prefer to wear training trousers and tee-shirts. Such clothing won’t hold up in our training. Tee-shirts don’t stand up to grappling practice. There are some who will argue that “in a real fight your opponent won’t be wearing a heavy practice jacket”, and that’s why they prefer tee-shirts. Okay. So let’s do the techniques and grab the tee-shirts. Watch what happens. Or we can just grab meat and execute the throw. But then, a lot of students wouldn’t be returning to class.

The reason the heavy jacket is worn is NOT to accommodate the thrower in the execution of his technique; it’s to PROTECT the receiver,  so the thrower doesn’t have to grab a fistful of meat in order to perform the throw.

If the receiver insists on wearing a tee shirt or regular street clothes, it leaves the thrower in a quandry. Does he rip his partner’s clothes to shreds? Does he dig into his partner’s flesh to perform the throw? Or does he water down the technique?

This is why I require all students to wear a full uniform in class.

However, the main thing is that the overall condition of the practice uniform is an indicator of the regard a person has for training and even for himself.

What other elements do you think contribute to 100% focus on the mat? Tell us in the comments, and you could win a set of Starr’s books!

Other must-have martial arts books from Philip Starr: