Why your teacher is not God - The infallibility illusion in traditional martial arts
December 18, 2023
It is easy to fall into the trap of seeing our martial arts masters as infallible or near-invincible in skill. However, this mindset is not just erroneous, but downright dangerous too. The following article will explain why.
Working Together: Teaching Online
March 26, 2021
Online teaching has been trending throughout the pandemic. YMAA instructors Jonathan Chang and Michelle Lin share their experiences providing virtual teaching pre-pandemic until now, as well as hosting a global Martial Arts Virtual Camp. I sat down with them recently (virtually of course) to discuss all this and what they are planning for the future.
Bam Commandments: Spiritual Principles
February 15, 2021
It’s the first of the month in the tough ghetto neighborhood. It’s payday for the poor. The welfare check has arrived, and the drug dealers can’t wait. It’s also their payday, and they can easily estimate $20,000-$50,000 in income. This might seem exaggerated, but it’s not. This dealing goes on every day, and with this business comes violence, guns, and murder for those in top positions of power.
Happy "Niu" Year! 2021—Year of the Ox!
February 8, 2021
To Chinese, this most important celebration of the year is known as "Spring Festival" (春節; pinyin: Chūnjié). It is a time of family reunion. Family members gather at each other's homes for visits and shared meals, most significantly a feast (年夜飯; pinyin: niányèfàn) on New Year's Eve (除夕; pinyin: Chúxī). In Chinese societies, people may take weeks off from work to prepare for and celebrate this holiday. With about 3 billion passenger trips over the 40-day travel season, it is described as the world's largest annual human migration.
Know the Land, Know the Martial Arts History of Vietnam
September 28, 2020
Vietnam has a land mass close to 332,000 square kilometers, it borders China to the north, mainland Southeast Asia to the west and has hundreds of kilometers of coastline. As a result, the region has long been seen as a strategically and economically valuable resource. The modern incarnation of Vietnam was first amalgamated by military expansion southwards throughout the seventeenth century, giving the country its distinct "S" shape. Meanwhile, the northern borders have had very little modification since the withdrawal of the Song Dynasty in 1070.
Vietnamese Martial Arts and Their Role in the Modern World - July 24, 2020
The land we now know as Vietnam has been defined by centuries of conflict. Within the modern-day borders of the country, countless battles for dominance, resources and survival have taken place, thus ensuring the development of many unique fighting styles. Although there has been a long and intertwined history between China and Vietnam (the name Vietnam even stems from the Chinese "Nan Yue" which means "Southern Dwellers",) various geographical, cultural and physical differences have all coalesced to create combat systems that are distinctly different from their northern counterparts.
2020: Enter the Rat! The First of the Twelve Chinese Zodiac Signs - January 20, 2020
The Chinese year 4718 begins on January 25, 2020. According to the Chinese zodiac it will be the Year of the Rat (鼠年 - “rat year”; pinyin: shǔnián). The Chinese calendar is lunisolar (not purely lunar). Months begin with the new moon (when it is darkest). New Year's Day usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. The year 1 on the Chinese calendar corresponds to the first reign year of the legendary Yellow Emperor (黃帝; pinyin: Huángdì), who is said to have invented the calendar during the 61st year of his reign.
The Way of Wushudo - December 2, 2019
The highest level of martial arts training is to be able to perform beyond all boundaries, systems, styles, and techniques with total freedom of self-expression. You can achieve this only after you have developed a strong foundation in a particular style or system.
Sambo-Not for the Faint of Heart - November 25, 2019
The young newspaper reporter was looking for an angle on his story about the national sambo tournament I was hosting sometime back around 1985 in Kansas City, Missouri. I had given him the necessary background information on the sport; the rules, history, who was competing that day and the other bits of information that would give the reporter more than enough information to provide an interesting story to his readers.
Steps to Winning - November 11, 2019
Many people study martial arts because they want to develop their fighting skills, then have a chance to go one-on-one with other martial artists. It seems more refined and socially acceptable to them than going outside and picking a fight with someone on the street. Of course you don't get the same possible dire consequences, because there is always a measure of controlled fighting in the ring.
Structured Training in the Martial Arts - October 14, 2019
Structured training is not only necessary, it is essential and central to success in any field of endeavor, and especially so in the fighting sports that comprise the martial arts. A person has to train hard, but just as important, that martial arts athlete has to train smart. In most martial arts, there is a rational approach to skill development.
How to be a Complete Martial Artist and Discover the Champion Within - October 7, 2019
It took a 6-foot-wide and 8-foot-high jail cell for me to realize that I had the qualities of a complete martial artist. I struggled with the thought of the inside being like a tunnel and losing my breath from being claustrophobic.
Encountering a Bully - September 23, 2019
When you come across a bully, it is important to understand that there are several defensive tools you can use to escape a fight. To avoid these situations altogether, it helps to know what types of bullies there are and what weapons they will use to try to put you down.
The Pursuit of Do - August 12, 2019
There is a formula in Western civilization that many people follow, hoping for inner peace and happiness—a good education, plus a good job, plus lots of money and material possessions, plus family and friends equal inner peace and happiness.
Judo Isn't Gentle - February 18, 2019
Is judo really the "gentle way?" In the popular meaning of the word, judo certainly isn't anything close to being gentle. To paraphrase the great martial arts writer Donn Draeger; "Judo isn't gentle." And while judo isn't gentle in the more common use of the word, it's certainly efficient; and because it's efficient, it's effective
Fighting with Weapons - January 28, 2019
Weapons are simply an extension of the fighter. The Samurai even considered the sword to be an extension of their soul. The weapon assumes the character of whoever wields the weapon, as the weapon is simply a tool that extends the will of the fighter. The principles of fighting with empty hands apply to fighting with weapons. A fight is a fight. But there are some thoughts about these principles that should be noted.
Calibrating the Moral Compass - August 6, 2018
The value of life involves two distinct aspects: the physical—life itself or the actual human “being” of aliveness—and the metaphysical in orbit around it that is everything we consider worthwhile in life—our loves, ambitions, and desires, including our sense of oughtness referenced within morals, ethics, justice, and rights.
The Way of the Warrior - June 18, 2018
In the witching hours of night, after a softball game with friends, police officer Stacey Lim was returning home. As she parked, a vehicle carrying five members of a local gang crept behind her. A young man emerged from the vehicle. He meant to murder her and to steal her car. He wanted to prove himself to fellow gang members. Officer Lim stepped out of her vehicle and turned into the looming barrel of a gun.
Good People Who Want to be Better People Get Trained - June 4, 2018
"I'm at Laughing Man Tavern in Washington, DC." This is the last tweet of Kevin Joseph Sutherland. It's dated July 3, 2015. In the early afternoon of July Fourth, Sutherland boards the Metro Red Line to meet friends downtown to watch fireworks. He is twenty-four, has recently graduated from American University, and has been hired as a digital strategist for a DC firm.
The Protector Ethic - May 21, 2018
Take this true story of a young man who went to the aid of a young woman—she was being beaten. This fellow tried to thwart the attack by attacking her attacker. But, unbeknownst to our hero, the aggressor's friends were not far behind, and when they came on their comrade receiving a knuckle sandwich, they served up several of their own. Whatever happened to the girl is anyone's guess.
No, Fairy Tales Are Not Morally ‘Ambiguous,’ And That’s Why They’re Worthwhile - May 14, 2018
“Darth Vader was seduced by the other side of the Force.” Actually, it was the dark side, not the other side. Vader was seduced by a set of values in contradiction to what Jedi took for granted about the Force and its usage.
Discipline: Keep Cool - May 7, 2018
One of my teachers frequently used the phrase, "Keep a cool tool." Samurai Miyamoto Mushashi expressed this a bit more eloquently centuries earlier, saying, "You must remain calm at all times; in this way you can control the attack."
Winning Fights is Based on Principles—Not Techniques - April 9, 2018
Technique is important. But techniques change, adapt, and evolve. Principles are timeless. Bruce Lee recognized this truth, and advised to “absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.” To Lee, there was no single superior style of fighting. He even referred to his methods as the “style of no style.”
Winning Fights - April 2, 2018
Everyone knows that any fighter can win or lose on any given day. There is even a saying among fighters that there is always someone bigger and better. No one can consistently predict the outcome of two fighters facing each other who possess equal skill. The Navy SEALS have the same problem. Men of all sizes, body types and different skill sets wish to enter SEAL training.
Can We Win the War on Terror? - March 19, 2018
Terrorism and Rapid Mass Murder seem to be permanent, lurking shadows darkening the stage of modern politics. Experts weave a nest of causes, from untempered religious orthodoxy and the moral queasiness of the West to historical grievance and the Internet as a mechanism for radicalization, among others. All, perhaps, carry their measure of truth. I would like to suggest that whatever volatile mix of causes accounts for the menace of terrorism, as a practical matter, the problem is intractable. The prevailing structure of our institutions offers no response to it.