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National Bullying Prevention Month

November 10, 2010

Bullying is a real world problem that many of us have faced at one point or another in our lives. Today, as many as half of all adolescents are bullied in their academic career, and at least 10% of those are bullied everyday. Bulling can also occur in any other context in which there is human contact and can result in long-term emotional and behavioral problems, sometimes even leading to suicide.

The Sensei Project strives to help teachers help their students to find the power within themselves to put a stop to this prevalent issue. Martial arts master teachers Tom Callos, Fariborz Azhakh, and Diana Lee Inosanto, firmly believe that education is the first step toward achieving this. Thus they have brought a comprehensive on-line bullying prevention teacher training course to the international martial arts community in hopes to do just that. Their goal is to teach people how not be a victim—or a perpetrator—of bullying by preparing the next generation of teachers with the tools they need.

For more information on The Sensei Project, visit contact Tom Callos at 530-903-0286 (Hawaii Time).

Visit The Pacer Center’s Bullying Prevention Programs and Resources web-page, here.

For a book with practical advice and steps towards self-defense and self-awareness, check out Krav Maga: How to Defend Yourself Against Armed Assault. Krav Maga is today’s cutting edge self-defense and hand to hand combat system. Initially developed by Grandmaster Imi Sde-Or (Lichtenfeld) for the Israel Defense Forces and other national security services, Krav Maga has been thoroughly adapted to meet civilan needs. The method was designed so that ordinary citizens, young and old, men and women alike, can successfully use it, regardless of their physical strength. This is the first and only authorized comprehensive manual on the Krav Maga discipline, written by its founder, Imi Sde-Or, and his senior disciple and follower, Eyal Yanilove. This volume especially focuses on the various facets of dealing with an assailant armed with a sharp-edged weapon, a blunt object, or a firearm.


October 28, 2010

Phillip Starr has authored three books on martial arts with Blue Snake Books, with a fourth book, Hidden Hands: Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Martial Arts Forms on sale November 23, 2010 (pre-order here!). 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.


by Phillip Star

The idea of utilizing the yi; the intention/mind, is so important in the practice of martial arts that one of the internal systems, Xing Yi Quan, based its name on it. “Xingyi” means roughly, “Shape of the Mind” or “Shape of the intent.”  The word and character for intent and mind (yi) is the same.  Although virtually all Xingyi practitioners understand the translation of the name of their chosen art and, like many other martial arts devotees, have some concept of the importance of the concept of yi (using the translation of “intent”), I’m not sure that they fully grasp it’s significance insofar as the application of technique is concerned.

It’s one thing to “have the intention” of delivering a given technique against your opponent and it’s quite another to commit yourself to (the delivery of) that technique.

I think that very often, martial arts practitioners have the intention of striking with a given technique; that is, they simply intend to strike the enemy with it, but they don’t really commit themselves to it.

There’s a real difference.

In the practice of Japanese iaido (the art of drawing and cutting with the sword), there’s a lot of emphasis placed on committing the technique.  That is, as the imaginary foe attacks, you must commit your entire being; your body, mind, and spirit to the delivery of your technique.  This commitment must be absolutely total with nothing held back.  It is felt that holding back; giving anything less than 100% of one’s commitment, could very well weaken or slow down the technique (or one’s reaction) and result in defeat.  Defeat, insofar as the philosophy of this kind of martial art is concerned, isn’t necessarily completely concerned with the fact that you get yourself killed; it’s chief concern is that you fail in achieving your immediate goal which is destruction of the enemy.  Your own personal survival is of secondary importance…

So, when you train each kata you must do so with total commitment to your immediate goal.  Nothing is held back.  Nothing is held in reserve just in case “things go wrong.”  Their feeling is that if you believe that something may go wrong, your technique is bad.  If your technique is perfect, what could possibly go wrong?  If your timing, distance, balance, power…if everything is just right, how could you possibly fail?

So in facing an opponent, you must go beyond simply “having the intention” of striking him with your technique.  You must commit yourself to it.  It must be done with feeling that, “If it’s the last thing that I ever do, it’s going to be to strike down this opponent…”

This isn’t something that you can simply think about and then do when the chips are down.  It takes a lot of practice; a lot of repetitious practice, over and over.  When you practice your basic techniques you must do them with this feeling.  The same is true when you practice your forms.  You must practice it when you engage in two-person training exercises with a partner, although you must exercise proper control so that you don’t injure him/her.

To commit doesn’t mean that you should recklessly charge in…that’s foolish.  You wait until the moment is just right.  When the opportunity presents itself, you commit.  At that instant, you pour your self; your whole being, into that technique with the goal of striking the opponent. Don’t commit yourself to the execution of the technique!  Then there is no goal except for the performance of the technique.  Performing the technique isn’t your goal…striking the opponent is!

When you can do that, then you’ll understand the true meaning of “intent.”

How do you commit to your technique? Do you agree with Pete Starr? Give us your 2 cents in the comments below, and you could win the following set of Pete Starr’s books! Don’t forget to include your email with your comment so that we know how to contact the winners!

Other must-have martial arts books from Philip Starr:

A Shamanic Journey: Your Healer/Warrior Mask with Kaleo and Elise Ching

October 8, 2010

Photos: Marisa and Normandy, CIIS, 2009

A Shamanic Journey: Your Healer/Warrior Mask with Kaleo and Elise Ching
Discover the archetypal energy of your Inner Healer-Warrior and create your own unique totem mask. The adventure begins with Chi Kung to open chakras as portals to creativity. Guided journeying leads you into realms of your psyche to access deep archetypal wisdom manifesting as your Inner Healer-Warrior. Working with a partner, who uses special techniques and caring touch to sculpt the mask mold of your face, you feel the plaster gauze as another layer of skin. Your enlivened senses will bring you deeper into realms of inner awareness. Summoning the energy of the Warrior-Healer, you then channel your discoveries into creative expression through sculpting, painting, and adorning your mask of personal transformation. This process will help you invoke a balance of the Healer-Warrior in your daily life.

An empowering process for artists, therapists, healers, and anyone interested in shamanism, dreams, chakras, the mysteries of energy flows, archetypal influences, and creativity for self-discovery and healing. All levels welcome.

California Institute of Integral Studies Public Programs (
Saturday and Sunday, Oct 30, 31, 2010 10am – 5:30pmCIIS Minna Street Center, 695 Minna St., San Francisco
For more information: 415.575.6175

FEE: $235 plus $30 for a feast of art supplies (paints, tools, acrylic medium, beads, furs, feathers, fabric, natural material, etc.). Please bring personal items for your mask (i.e. cultural, tribal, or ancestral items, objects for healing or warrior power, spiritual icons, locks of hair, meaningful jewelry, photos; one person adorned her mask with her 4 grown children’s baby teeth).

INSTRUCTORS: Kaleo & Elise Ching are artists, who teach art-as-healing classes at JFK University and many other institutions in the Bay Area and beyond. Kaleo has a private hypnotherapy/massage practice and also teaches Chi Kung and massage at the Acupressure Institute. They co-authored Faces of Your Soul: Rituals in Art, Maskmaking, and Guided Imagery with Ancestors, Spirit Guides, and Totem Animals (North Atlantic Books); and Chi and Creativity: Vital Energy and Your Inner Artist (Blue Snake Books).

Saturday, October 30 (10am–5:30pm) Be prompt. Wear grubby clothes.  Remove contact lenses for maskmaking
10am:         Opening circle – Introductions; slide presentation
11am:          Chi Kung: Chi ball; chakras; transmit/absorb/scan with Chi
12pm:         Guided imagery and Art (Outer Face; Inner Face)
1pm:            Lunch
2pm:           Please be prompt. Making your mask mold

Recommended reading: Healing Herbs (206-210); Your Mask of Self-Reflection (142-146)

Sunday, October 31 (10am–5:30pm) Be prompt. Wear grubby clothes. Please bring bag lunch today
10am:           Chi Kung
10:30:           Guided imagery (Meeting Your Spirit Guide)
11am:            Art (painting & embellishing) demonstration
11:30:            Painting, embellishing your mask (lunch on your own)
4:30pm:       Sharing & Closure

VIEW: CIIS students and their masks:

RECOMMENDED READING: Faces of Your Soul: Rituals in Guided Imagery, Art, and Maskmaking with Ancestors, Spirit Guides, and Totem Animals by Elise and Kaleo Ching, 2006 (North Atlantic Books).

Before our first class, we recommend reading the Introduction (xxi-xxx), Spirit Guides (9-49), Sculpting the Mask (115-140). To deepen your process and to complete your papers, please read and journal on one or more of the following: Your Mask of Self-Reflection (142-146); The Sound of Your Mask (146-147); Movement with Your Mask (147); The Dialogue, Observer, the Storyteller (148-150); Mask of Your Warrior-Healer (151-154)

Mandala Rommel Tortal Two-Day Seminar

September 28, 2010

Magino’o Mandala Rommel Tortal is the Chief Instructor of the Edged-Impact Weapons Tactical Combat training of the Philippine Marine Corps and PNP – Special Action Force. The nephew of Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje Jr (the Grandmaster of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali), Mandala Rommel Tortal spearheads the Edged-Impact Weapons training of the US Marines during Balikatan Exercises.

Pekiti-Tirsia is a system of combat-proven strategy, tactics, and techniques executed through the principle of offense, counter-offense, and recounter-offense. Seminar instruction will provide students with clear and concise knowledge, understanding, and skills in blade fighting and its application to empty-hand as well as all-edged and impact-weapon combat. This is an authentic family system of Filipino martial art, tested and proven through generations of combat; it is today the official close-quarters combat system for the Philippine Marine Corps and is required training for every Philippine Marine.

This seminar will focus on the combat drills and tactical application of the Tri-V Formula, an advanced sub-system of Pekiti-Tirsia. This will include all weapon categories of PTK as well as Pangamut/Empty-Hands/Dumog. Participants should bring training weapons and protective gear – and be prepared to train.

Dates: November 6th & 7th (Saturday and Sunday)
Time: 10am – 5pm (Check-in: 9:30am)

Location: Santa Clara Convention Center 5001
Great America Parkway
Santa Clara, CA 95054

Pre-registration (by October 17th): $160 or $90 per day
After October 17th or at the door: $180 or $100 per day

  • Absolutely NO FILMING of any kind will be permitted other than by those already designated
  • Still pictures may be taken during designated times
  • Absolutely no outside food or beverages within the Convention Center (beverages will be provided, and there will be lunch breaks for both days)

For more information, questions, or concerns, please contact Crisanto Aquino at (949) 633–8514 or

Interested in Filipino martial arts? Check out Arnis Self-Defense: Stick, Blade, and Empty-Hand Combat Techniques of the Philippines by Jose Paman.

Girl Army: Six-Week Self-Defense Workshop (October 10-November 14)

September 8, 2010

Learn to defend yourself! Pre-registration is now open for the Girl Army Fall Basics Course, designed to teach physical and psychological self-defense skills to women and transgender folks of all skill levels and backgrounds. You’ll learn:

  • How to escape from grabs and chokes
  • How to block and strike powerfully
  • How to set—and keep—boundaries
  • How to stand your ground
  • How to use pressure points to safely dissuade or disable an attacker
  • How to execute basic takedowns and fight while on the ground

…and much more! The course takes place over six Sunday afternoons at Suigetsukan Dojo in Oakland, near Lake Merritt. For more information about the Girl Army collective, you can visit our website here.

To pre-register, you can download a form here and mail it in, send us an email, add yourself to the Facebook event page, or leave a message on our voice mail: 510.496.3443. Class size is limited; please pre-register as early as possible to reserve a spot.

Questions about the class? Not sure if this is right for you? Just ask! Our teachers will be happy to help.

October 10—November 14 (six weeks)
All classes on Sunday from 1-4pm
$0-120 sliding scale (no one turned away for lack of funds)
Suigetsukan Dojo
103 International Blvd.
Oakland, CA 94606

For further reading:

Many women learn of martial arts through a male companion’s interest in kung-fu movies or a six-week self-defense course like Girl Army’s workshop. Some venture beyond. Edited by Carol A. Wiley, this inspirational collection of stories of a group of women who have trained in martial arts for at least seven years fills an important nice in a male-dominated sport. Written in essay and poetry form, this book highlights a variety of viewpoints among this select group, ranging from a physically disabled student to a Native American practitioner. Many speak of martial arts as an equalizer of power, as training helps to build endurance, confidence, and determination.

Author Guest Blog: “The Teacher”

September 3, 2010

Phillip Starr has authored three books on martial arts with Blue Snake Books, with a fourth book, Hidden Hands: Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Martial Arts Forms on sale November 23, 2010 (pre-order here!). 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 Teacher”

By Phillip Starr

The word shihfu (which is Mandarin; the Catonese equivalent is “Sifu”) is comprised of two characters. The first character, shih, is made up of two radicals. One is the radical which means “legion” and the other is the radical for “surrounding”, which has been altered to read “teacher, master, specialist.” The second character translates as “one who enforces rules with a stick.” Appropriate enough.

The teacher was often referred to as “father” and in many schools he was actually regarded as the student’s psuedo-father, especially if the student was a juvenile. Even the student’s actual parents deferred to him and he had more authority (regarding the child) than the birth-father. The character of “fu” in “shihfu” can also be read as “father.” In modern usage, the term “shihfu” means simply, “teacher-father.”

In Japanese, students refer to their teachers as “sensei” which means roughly, “one who has gone before.” As one of my senior students pointed out, it is somewhat awkward to refer to someone younger than yourself as “sensei”, even though he or she may actually be your instructor. The Chinese term does not infer “one who has gone before.” It means simply, “teacher-father.”

I will actually address anyone who has trained me, regardless of how small that training might be, as “shihfu.” For instance, Mr. Arthur Lee (who has more time in kung-fu than I do; hence, I am junior to him in terms of length of time in training) taught me several points about his art of Fut-Ga and kung-fu in general. To his dismay, I always address him as “shihfu” whenever we first meet.  After a verbal beating, I address him as “Arthur.” But the next day, I’ll start off by calling him “shihfu” again.

One of my teachers, the late W.C. Chen, regarded teaching as the noblest profession. “Without teachers, where would we be?” he would ask. Naturally, he felt that martial arts teachers and those who teach medicine were at the top of the list.  These things, he felt, had more impact on people’s lives than anything else.  His feelings are arguable, but I won’t go there right now….

In old China, the village kung-fu teacher was usually the village doctor, as it were.  He had seen and dealt with more injuries than most other people. Additionally, highly-trained kung-fu teachers had to have a detailed understanding of the body’s energy system and how it worked. This is identical to the knowledge required of traditional Chinese physicians and it became something of a tradition for persons desiring to acquire high skill in kung-fu to become skilled in at least one of the fields of traditional Chinese medicine (acupuncture, massotherapy, herbology, or qigong). Mr. Mark Salzman, who authored the book “Iron and Silk” relates how people would flock to him when they found out that he was skilled in kung-fu. They came to him to be healed of various maladies rather than to learn fighting techniques. Clearly, the old tradition of the kung-fu practitioner/teacher being skilled in the healing arts is still alive even in modern China.

This wonderful tradition began to die out decades ago. Nowadays, it is rare to find a kung-fu teacher who is skilled in any form of Chinese medical therapy. I try to maintain the old tradition by requiring senior students to study one or more of the traditional (Chinese) medical fields. I think that this is something that makes us unique and sets us apart from most contemporary kung-fu groups.

It was (and still is) felt that the shihfu took a part of his life, in terms of time and consideration, and gave it to the student. Thus, the close bond between the two. Although the teacher could have spent his time practicing on his own and not have to deal with the responsibilities and aggravations which teaching entails, he elected to use a portion of his time on this earth to transmit what he had learned to someone else. This made him a very special person, especially in the eyes of his students.

It was quite common for students to take money, food, or other gifts to the teacher each week and in some cases, for each class! Fortunately, this is done today with money rather than food. I’d hate to think of what I’d get from a couple of my students who are hardcore bachelors; I can only choke down so much macaroni and cheese. But the notion that “traditional” kung-fu teachers never charged tuition of some kind is entirely erroneous. In many ways, the old way of showing gratitude/paying the teacher was a good deal more expensive than it is today.

Another reason why teachers expected some form of compensation (although they might not have stated it) was because, as one of my teachers put it, “The student must have an investment. If he has no investment, he loses nothing if he does not come to class.” I have found this to be true.

The shihfu was held in the highest regard because he would teach the student things which could save his or her life; things which could be used to defend against aggressors, and things which could be used to maintain health. He would also serve as a sort of spiritual guide to the student (at the higher levels). This made him unique among teachers. Teachers of mathematics, language and writing, and so on, were not even in the same league as the martial arts teachers because their teachings would not necessarily save the student’s life.

The training which the shihfu provided for his students and the knowledge he shared with them would build a bond of iron between them. Any student who turned his back on his teacher without very good reason(s) was considered an outcast not only in the martial arts society, but in Chinese society in general. He was regarded as a person without personal honor or integrity.

At the same time, the shihfu regarded the student (or his closest student/s) as his “son” or “daughter” (although it was very rare for a female to undertake the study of martial arts). This went much deeper than mere lip service. It was a sort of spiritual bond that even death could not break.

There are some who believe that “shihfu” is the Chinese equivalent to “master” and this is incorrect, at least insofar as how we Westerners interpret the word “master.” Some teachers insist on being called “master” and I have never been comfortable with this. After all, what is a master? What does it really mean to master something? I am not sure. I think if I have really mastered something, I don’t need to “practice” or try to improve it any further and since I am still striving to learn how to punch correctly, I am not a “master.”

Those who insist on being called “grandmaster” are something of a mystery to me. Such terms were never used in the old days. And what comes after “grandmaster?”…”grand-ultra-cosmic master?”

Nah. I’m just a teacher. And I’m that because I love to teach. I can’t help myself. I thoroughly love teaching.

So next time you go to class, consider what your teacher is giving you and the sacrifices he or she makes to do so. He or she doesn’t have to be there; doesn’t have to teach. Your teacher is there because he or she cares. Your teachers give you a part of their lives; a part of their spirits. Nurture it.

How do you show gratitude to your instructor? Do you agree with Pete Starr? Give us your 2 cents in the comments below, and you could win the following set of Pete Starr’s books! Don’t forget to include your email with your comment so that we know how to contact the winners!

Other must-have martial arts books from Philip Starr:

Cutting Edge Self Defense: Krav Maga

September 1, 2010

Krav Maga

Approximately 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. In 2007 alone, 248,300 victims were sexually assaulted. Startling numbers, aren’t they? With these numbers on the rise every year, it is crucial that we learn how to defend ourselves from potential predators perhaps now more than ever. We have all heard a story about a friend or acquaintance that was mugged or attacked. Hopefully they were able to fend off the intruder, and hopefully they were aware of the necessary protocol for handling the situation. If you have ever been attacked personally, then you know exactly how important it is to be equipped with knowledge in self-defense. Krav Maga is one of the most popular current martial arts techniques for self-defense and the art of warding off an attacker, and it is incredibly effective.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Book, Krav Maga: How to Defend Yourself Against Armed Assault, written by Imi Sde-Or and Eyal Yanilov describes the Israeli army’s techniques for defending themselves from a range of weapons along with a step-by-step guide on the processes. Whether the assailant is wielding a knife, stick, or even gun, the available techniques explained through Krav Maga can be there to assist in valuable protection.

Throughout reading the Krav Maga guide, I instantly picked up on some of the basic principles and rules to train by. Be it that everyday household appliances like screw drivers, forks, or even pens may one day save your life from an attacker, or the simple fact that in a mugging or brawl, there are no rules, knowing how to defend yourself can be the most important aspect to training in any martial art.

Here are some of the more important guiding principles of krav maga presented in this book:

1) In an attack, it is incredibly important to avoid injury at all costs. Every step, block, and strike must be calculated and planned in a well thought out fashion to ensure safety.

2) We all have the ability to practice and yield the formidable skills of Krav Maga. The techniques are nothing more than an extension of the body’s natural reflexes that are channeled and directed to meet the need of any given situation. We all have the power to refine our bodies, and only through studying, practicing, and training can we truly master all that we are capable of.


Any household object can be used to defend yourself from an attacker.

3) Strike correctly at any vulnerable point and use any tool or object available nearby. The book does a very thorough and detailed explanation of showing any type of scenario with the assailant attacking from all different directions and with varied weapons. As I said before, there are no rules when being attacked, so be prepared to strike wherever you can and with whatever you can.


From front cover to the final page, Krav Maga: How to Defend Yourself Against Armed Assault will teach you exactly how to defend yourself from an attacker. You will learn how to keep control of yourself both physically and mentally regardless of the proximity of the attacker and regardless of their weapon. If you have any interest in learning how to practice self-defense, then I implore you to visit our website and get yourself a copy of Krav Maga today.

Author Guest Blog: “The Secret of Training”

August 3, 2010

Phillip Starr has authored three books on martial arts with Blue Snake Books, with a fourth book, Hidden Hands: Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Martial Arts Forms on sale November 23, 2010 (pre-order here!). 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 Secret of Training”

by Phillip Starr

One day as the revered zen master, Dokuon, was idly smoking his long bamboo pipe, he was approached by Tesshu, a well-known samurai who had been studying zen for some time. “I have finally grasped the essence of kara,” Tessuhu exclaimed. “I am now empty.” And the swordsman went on to explain how the universe is empty, about there being no difference between subjective and objective, and so on.

Dokuon listened quietly for a short time and then suddenly smacked Tesshu on the forehead with his pipe. Tesshu was outraged and jumped to his feet. “That hurt, you stupid old fool!” he snarled. “I could cut you down for doing that!”

“My, my,” Dokuon said quietly. “This emptiness is certainly quick to show anger, isn’t it?”
Tesshu smiled sheepishly, hung his head, and crept away silently.

Endless repetitions of reverse punches, side thrust kicks, front snap kicks, backfists….Trying to memorize those cursed forms, trying to understand what they mean, their spirit…perfecting footwork, stances, timing, breathing. SO much to remember and SO MUCH to practice! Sifu/Sensei says that it’ll come naturally someday but how far off is that??? Look here, pay attention to that, don’t think of this, focus your mind over here…where does it all end? All these techniques and movements…do they really work? What’s all of this about, anyway?

I’m sure these thoughts have run through your head many, many times and they’ll continue to do so for some time. It’s a natural part of the learning process.

And for all the repetitions of various techniques, the constant polishing of timing, the striving for perfection in footwork and forms, it all really boils down to training one thing.

Your mind.

The mind perceives what’s going on outside of itself through brain’s utilization of the five senses. It responds via the body, so your body must be trained to do exactly what the mind commands.

At the same time, the mind has to be sharpened and polished. It has to be trained to perceive instantly and clearly. This process will necessarily involve some pretty frightening concepts — like letting go of attachments that are or will interfere with its ability to see and react clearly and without hesitation. “That doesn’t sound too awfully difficult,” you say. “What could be so scary about letting go of certain attachments?”

Well, there’s the natural attachment to life; to your own safety and survival. If you engage one or more opponents in a life and death struggle, how can you focus 100% of your attention on them if you’re worried about your own survival? You’ll always keep a part of your focus on yourself; a part of your yi (intention, mind) and chi/ki remains withdrawn and cannot be extended towards the enemy (or whatever threat it is that you face). You are unable to fully commit yourself at the moment of truth. You may hesitate and suffer the fate that you fear.

You only maintain your attachment to survival if you maintain a fear of death. So, you must come to grips with death — understand and accept it, and then discard all of your concerns about it.

This is what training is ultimately about. You must free your mind as you train your body so that your mind can express itself freely and without the slightest hesitation. Then and only then are you truly free to move through life boldly and experience it without fear.

I can already hear some of you asking, “How do I do this? How do I train my mind in this way? Should I practice meditation, study books on the subject…what should I do?”

The answer is simple but it’s probably not what you want to hear. No, meditation won’t necessarily achieve it. Intellectual endeavors almost certainly won’t help you achieve it. I know of only one thing that will bring success…

Incessant training. Rigorous, spirited, unrelenting. It is without end. As Musashi Miyamoto, Japan’s “sword saint” told us, “The Way is in training.”

Other must-have martial arts books from Philip Starr:

Learning the Eight Training Divisions of Praying Mantis Kung Fu

July 30, 2010

Hello to all Martial Arts students.  Today, I am here to shed some light on an ancient Kung Fu technique that most have heard of, but few know much about.  In the martial arts movies and Kung Fu TV shows, it’s common to hear the characters blurt out lines like, “Your Eagle’s Claw is no match for my Dragon fist,” and other animal-type attacks like those.  Do any of us know what these techniques actually refer too?  In the recent Disney movie Kung Fu Panda, one of the main characters is a Kung Fu legend and also a Praying Mantis.  This tiny little 5 inch fighter, it turns out, has the potential to be one of the greatest threats, much like the fighting style itself.

In the book The Complete Guide to Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu, written by Stuart Alve Olson, we learn that Praying Mantis Kung Fu concerns copying the insects  swift attacks and defenses in the wild.  The praying mantis, capable of destroying other insects six times its own size, is a perfect model and perfect fighting machine.  The book explains that this form of Kung Fu can be used to increase agility, strength, and even energy.

– – – – – – – – – –

Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu, in particular, focuses on eight different training divisions.  To gain insight into this art, the student must be able to control these eight pivotal areas and simultaneously capture them in fluid swift motions.  Once these eight divisions are mastered, the student will be able to begin using their inner mantis and unleash it in the face of battle.  These eight training divisions are known as Pa Fa.

1. Hand (Shou): Hands need to be lightning fast, swift, and very accurate.

2. Eyes (Mu): Eyes need to be able to follow quick movements and watch the opponent to anticipate attacks.

3. Posture (Shih): Our posture must be both strong and flexible to keep our body pliable and quick.

4. Footwork (Pu): Feet need to be trained to be able to switch from rooted to the ground or agile and fast when needed.


5. Alertness (Shen): We must remain constantly sensitive to our environment, but also relaxed enough to think with a steady head and keep our composure.

6. Strength (LI): Our strength must be trained both internally and externally to create harmony within ourselves.

7. Energy (Qi): We must always have enough energy reserved and usable whenever needed. It is important to keep breathing steady and to not let our energy escape from us in battle

8. Effort (Kung): Always practice, spar, and fight with sufficient effort to keep ourselves in peak condition.

Theses eight divisions can be more deeply explained in the book, The Complete Guide to Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu along with fighting styles, in-depth training exercises, and a history of Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu.


I for one feel as though modeling fighting styles off of swift and powerful animals is a fool-proof  plan that will inevitably lead to success. The praying mantis in particular has the potential to be the most intimidating and threatening insects in the wild, and serves as a perfect teacher in attack and defense.  Do you feel as though modeling martial arts techniques off of animals and insects can be as effective as other human created fighting styles, or are they just entertaining fighting techniques that are oversold in Hollywood?

The Five Taboos of the Wudang

July 29, 2010

Every sports enthusiast has his or her own set of rules of training. Perhaps you make a point eating a full and balanced breakfast before practice, or you always perform a full body stretch before or after a training session. Martial arts in particular requires strenuous workouts with proper physical and mental control, and the effects of incomplete training, inside and outside of the dojo, can be detrimental to the learner. Though different disciplines can demand a different sequence of steps or movements, there is always some order applied to learning and mastering steps before moving from one training level to the next.
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In The Major Methods of Wudang Sword, written by Huang Yuan-Xiou , we learn of the “5 taboos” which are basically 5 essential steps in training for strenuous physical, mental, and spiritual activity. Though these taboos are meant specifically for sword training, the book states that they can be applied when learning any craft.

The first taboo deals with avoiding too much sex and avoiding being too materialistic.  Strict learners must avoid temptation and can’t be tempted by such luxuries. According to the Wudang, once we rid ourselves of these needs, we will be able to become balanced physically, psychologically, and spiritually.

I agree that being too materialistic can keep us blinded from what is really important.  Do you believe that it is sometimes important to avoid temptation of material possessions?

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Taboo 2 is pretty straightforward.  It basically states that it is important to avoid being violent for personal and selfish gain.  After we train our bodies and minds, it is important not to take advantage of others who haven’t yet trained themselves.

Wudang Sword

Taboo 3 explains the importance of learning in step-by-step progression.  Basically, walk before you run, which is pretty easily agreeable.

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Taboo 4 explains that is important to avoid overdoing it, and is somewhat controversial. The book states that we have limited energy and that or practice should be balanced with the days diet and rest.  Although I doubt anybody would argue with getting good rest and maintaining a healthy diet, our society honors pushing ourselves to the limit and “giving it 110%.” Being both a past football player, and frequent Jui-Jitsu student, I realize the importance of both mentalities.  Football double day practices in the blistering August heat with 35 pounds of pads on my back pushed my body to its limit, and made me a more  fierce competitor.  Jiu-Jitsu on the other hand strains every muscle in the body, and the same training would be potentially dangerous.  I suppose that every activity should have their rules when it comes to avoiding overdoing it, but over all, I would have to say that I agree with the Wudang that it does more harm than good for our physical and mental bodies.

The Last taboo is to avoid quitting easily.  This is a truly honorable taboo; those who wish to enhance skills, train, or learn something new need to have a certain level of commitment and can’t quit when things get tough.  Perseverance is key, and I truly believe that if you have the right frame of mind, then anything is possible.

What do you think?  Do you feel as though the Wudang’s taboos are sufficient, or can you think of more?