Podcast Ep 4: Discover the link between martial arts and Shamanism with Damon Smith

What is Shamanism? And how does it relate to martial arts? In this episode I catch up with my old, friend and teacher Damon Smith to answer some of these questions.

Damon is an incredibly experienced martial artist with a background in various Japanese and Chinese arts including Karate, Kempo, Xing Yi, Baji and Choy Lee Fut. And those are just a few of the arts he’s pursued to a very high level.

But despite being a great martial artist Damon’s true love has always been Shamanism.

And while he’s no stranger to banging a drum, Damon’s shamanism is not the hippy dippy sort of practice you might associate shamans with, instead it’s a very down to earth and practical art, much like the martial arts he does.

In this episode we talk about the link between martial arts and shamanism, and where the crossovers lie.

Sinking the Qi to the Dantien

Jesse Kenkamp (AKA The Karate Nerd) has done another great video on tracing the roots of Karate. Here he is with White Crane practitioner Martin Watts in Yongchun, birthplace of White Crane, which is usually considered an ancestor style to Karate.

What I liked about this video is Martin’s no-nonsense teaching of what are generally thought of as internals in Chinese martial arts and shrouded in mystery (usually by westerners using Orientalism to sell books 😉 )

My point in posting this is that Martin covers “sinking the qi to the dantien” at 4.00 – what it is and, most importantly how what it is not is just as important.

I appreciate Martin’s simple, down to earth explanation.

The Most Important KATA in Karate 🥋

Podcast Episode 2: Byron Jacobs on Beijing martial arts

Episode 2 of the Tai Chi Notebook podcast is out!

Byron Jacobs is a teacher of Xing Yi and Bagua based in Beijing, China. He’s a student of the famous Shifu Di Guoyong and is heavily involved in the martial arts scene in Beijing. As well as training traditional martial arts he’s also a BJJ practitioner and competitor.

If you’d like to be taught by Byron in the arts of Xing Yi and Bagua, then he has an online learning platform available at https://www.patreon.com/mushinmartialculture

In this wide ranging discussion we talk about training Xing Yi, Bagua and Tai Chi and whether Wu Shu will ever get into the Olympics. We also find out what it was like to train martial arts in Beijing during the Corona virus pandemic, and what the Chinese BJJ and MMA scene is like.

Show notes
—————

(9.45)
Byron’s Hua Jin Online learning platform
https://www.patreon.com/mushinmartialculture

(15.22)
Byron’s Mu Shin Martial Culture YouTube channel
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCg_V6eznSvYOFz2naGlgRpg

(47.05)
DQ’d for Kicking TOO HARD? – Doctor Reacts to Olympic Karate Controversy and Knockout Science
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QFxxM3QOws

(1.05.30)
Speed passing by Rafa Mendes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qu_9Lcdrh_w

(1.18.11)
Ku Yu Chang (Guruzhang’s) Yang style Taijiquan:
A STUDY OF TAIJI BOXING by Long Zixiang
https://brennantranslation.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/the-taiji-manual-of-long-zixiang/

(1.23.00)
Stand Still Be Fit by Master Lam Kam Chuen
https://www.youtube.com/user/StandStillBeFit

You can find it on all the usual places you find podcasts – search for The Tai Chi Notebook on Apple podcasts, Spotify, etc.. or here’s a link:

Spotify
Apple
Web

Scandinavian gymnastics and Qigong

Mark Singleton wrote a book, Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, in which he questions the ancient roots of Yoga. Is it really old, ancient, or even Indian? You can read his article summarising his argument here.

“What did it mean that many of the poses I was teaching were identical to those developed by a Scandinavian gymnastics teacher less than a century ago? This gymnast had not been to India and had never received any teaching in asana. And yet his system, with its five-count format, its abdominal “locks,” and its dynamic jumps in and out of those oh-so-familiar postures, looked uncannily like the vinyasa yoga system I knew so well.” –

Mark Singleton, Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice

I really love discovering these odd curiosities of 19th and early 20th century European gymnastic or martial arts that look incredibly like what we practice in the Asian martial arts styles, Qigong or Yoga. The link between 19th century French Savate (kickboxing) and the Japanese version of Karate is another fascinating connection that I’ve looked at before.

Recently I watched another video about 19th century Swedish Free Gymnastics:

Swedish Free Gymnastics has long since declined, but was pretty popular in the 19th century. There are some great archive pictures and video of the movements in that video above, and they look incredibly like what we know in China as Qigong – the idea of slow, smooth, elegant movement with force balanced around the body. In fact, some of the positions look exactly like Qigong movements I’ve been taught and practiced myself.

“The Swedish system of gymnastics is distinguished from other methods in the fact that a special apparatus is not absolutely needed for its exercises. If any argument were necessary to prove the hygienic and intellectual benefits of physical exercise, in these days of varied athletics, a scrutiny of the handbook now under notice would excite due enthusiasm. The whole range of gymnastic performance, from the simplest to the most complex exercises, is herein put before the reader with explicit directions for practice, and with a gratifying abundance of illustrations. The fact that the English language has hitherto had no comprehensive manual on the Swedish system is the occasion of the publication ; the official service of Baron Posse confirms his fitness for the authorship of this book of rules; while in mechanical arrangement nothing seems to have been omitted that would induce fondness for gymnastic practice.”

Posse, Nils. The Swedish system of educational gymnastics. B

As the video says, the similarities have lead some people to wonder if Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) was actually the inspiration for these movements. There was, after all, a political connection between China and colonialist Europe powers in the 19th century, that culminating in the Opium Wars.

The author of the video sensibly disagrees with the connection to Tai Chi Chuan, and so do I. For a start, I think these movements from Sweden are likely older than Tai Chi Chuan, The general assumption amongst people is that Tai Chi Chuan must be really, really old, yet there’s no evidence of its existence before Yang LuChan arrived in Beijing in the 1860s.

But leaving the Tai Chi Chuan question aside, the movements of Swedish Free Gymnastics look more like Qigong than Tai Chi Chuan anyway, but there are records of Chinese health movements (“tao yin”) stretching back thousands of years in China, so I don’t think we can claim a European origin for Qigong. Some sets like the Muscle tendon change set are really famous.

However, I wouldn’t discount the role of influence. The Europeans arriving in China in the 19th century in large numbers and with superior military force resulted in huge changes. As China began to experience defeat at the hands of the European powers, it turned it attention to modernising and adopting these new methods or warfare, economics and exercise. We talked a lot about this in our podcast episodes on the history of Tai Chi Chuan.

As China looked to the West new ideas of commerce, military methods and politics were considered for the first time. I wouldn’t be surprised if some element of the gymnastics of the time slipped in as well, as it did in India, with Yoga.

What are we really doing when we do martial arts?

This is a fascinating talk between Drs Jared Miracle and Paul Bowman on martial arts. There’s a little section from 31.20 onwards where they get into the miasma that surrounds martial arts and how it can be manipulated for nation building and national identity. the example given is Tae Kwan Do and its need to be ancient. But they go on to talk about how, on a personal level, we often have an idea about what we are doing when we do martial arts that doesn’t necessarily match what we are actually doing or getting out of the martial art we practice.

The invention of martial arts

An excellent video by Prof. Paul Bowman to promote his new book, The Invention of Martial Arts: Popular Culture Between Asia and America.

This presentation looks at how martial arts arrived in the UK and when the concept of being a martial artist first entered into the popular consciousness. Along the way he covers Bartistu, the Avengers, James Bond, Bruce Lee, Kung Fu the TV series, Ninjas, the Wu-Tang Clan and the UFC.

Review: Cobra Kai

We couldn’t resist doing a podcast episode about Cobra Kai, the modern TV series version of the classic 80’s martial arts film Karate Kid, so here it is.

I think I keep getting the names of the two protagonists mixed up, but who in their right minds makes a TV series with two lead characters who have such similar names as Danny and Johnny? Oh well, that is the beauty of the Netflix TV series that is Cobra Kai!

Japanese martial arts: from the battlefield to MMA

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I’ve written a guest blog post about my Heretics podcast and our history of Japanese martial arts series for Holistic Budo, a blog run by my friend Robert Van Valkenburgh.

Here’s a quote:

After the Tokugawa-era ended with the bloody Boshin war followed by the Meiji Restoration (1868), Japan slowly opened up to the outside world. In fact, it was forced open by the British and Americans using violent gunboat diplomacy, but eventually the new era was embraced by the new rulers and also reflected in a new spirit of openness within the martial arts. Aliveness was back in fashion and innovators like Jigoro Kano breathed new life into the martial arts they inherited using the practice of randori (free sparring). His approach was so effective that Kano went from never having trained martial arts at all, to founding his own style in less than 6 years. Ultimately Kano’s Judo would outshine all the other styles of Jiujitsu and change the course of martial arts in Japan entirely, not to mention the rest of the world.

Check out the whole post here.

The history of Jiujitsu and Kempo. Part 4

The latest episode of the Heretics podcast is out!

https://www.spreaker.com/user/9404101/episode4final

In part 4 we examine the time period between 1960 and 1980 in Japan, and discuss topics such as martial arts marketing and the different ways in which the Japanese created and promoted a wide range of new martial arts.

Here are a few links to videos of the things we talk about this time:

Gracie vs. Kimura – October 23, 1951 (Maracanã Stadium – Rio de Janeiro, Brasil)

Gracies vs bullies on beach:

Rikidozan vs Masahiko Kimura (1954 – Part 2/2)

PRIDE 25: Kazushi Sakuraba vs Antonio “Elvis” Schembri

Muhammed Ali vs Antonio Inoki Boxer vs MMA Fighter 1976

 

Mas Oyama vs “bull”:

TV show about Iwama and Aikido, Ibaraki Prefecture (茨城県, Ibaraki-ken) Japan featuring the late Morihiro Saito Sensei.

Taido:

Kodo:

The (real) secrets of the Ninja

 

The duck test is a form of abductive reasoning, usually expressed as:

“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

The test implies that a person can identify an unknown subject by observing that subject’s habitual characteristics.

 

Ninja warrior

I was browsing through my Facebook feed recently and a friend had posted a funny martial arts video from a page called McDoLife. It came with the description:

“The most savage and terrifying form known to man!!

In the video a western male, who doesn’t look particularly young, strong, or athletic, and is dressed up in Asian atire, introduces a martial form he’s about to perform with the immortal words (delivered in a Southern drawl, and without a hint of irony), “it’s composed of 27 of the deadliest poison hand techniques ever devised. Each one of which is guaranteed to kill, cripple, or main any attacker. It is not for the squeamish nor the weak at heart.

Guaranteed!

Then, after a formal bow, he and a doomed student run through a frankly baffling performance of screaming, flailing arm attacks and kicks, to which his student makes no attempt to resist.

I found a copy of the same clip on YouTube here. Watch for yourself:

The man in the video is known as Ashida Kim (real name Radford Davies), who wrote several books on Ninjutsu, including Secrets of the Ninja, first published in 1981, which contains such gems as how to use a “cloak of invisibility”. It looks like the video was shot on VHS which would make it 1980s (?), probably. The YouTube title is “Kinji-Te, the Forbidden Fist of the Ninja.”

Despite there being no record of him ever have being trained by anyone (according to this Wikipedia page) Kim/Davies because famous in martial arts circles for teaching ninja skills during the ninja craze of the 1980s.

To modern eyes his videos look ridiculous. Back in the 1980s when access to quality martial arts instruction from the East was rare, and the Internet hadn’t been invented, these sort of things were common. It’s just a man flailing his way through a series of “deadly” martial arts techniques on an unresisting opponent – pretending to rake his face, rip out his throat, gouge his eyes, etc.

In the modern age of social media, we’re all used to funny videos like this popping up, and I was laughing along with the rest of the Internet, until I suddenly stopped and thought, hang on, “poison hand”… that rings a bell…

Then I watched the clip again and thought, “Hey, I know some of these moves!”. Before the video descends into a 100 move Monty Python-esque kata against a guy lying on the ground not fighting back, he was definitely doing the start of a form known as “Duck Sau” from a martial art I used to practice in my youth called “Feng Sau Kung Fu”. We pronounced it “Duck Sau”, but in written form it was presented as “Tu Shou”, which translated as “Poison hand”!

Here’s a video of the Tu Shou form being performed:

Note the similarities – after the initial bow to his student, Kim settles himself back into a riding horse stance, just like the Tu Shou performer does. His student attacks with a blow with his right hand and Kim steps back with his right leg into a back stance (known as “Duck stance” in the Li family system), raising his left hand as a deflection, and then proceeds to perform a sequence of arm attacks.

Feng Shou (“Hand of the wind”) is the kung fu section of the Li Family System of Taoist Arts taught by a figure famous in the British martial arts scene, Chee Soo (who died 1994). Since he was in Britain, and one of the few Chinese teachers openly teaching kung fu to the public during the kung fu boom of the 1970s, Chee Soo’s martial arts society became really popular in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, before another styles of Chinese martial art could really get a foothold in the country.  Of course, it’s popularity dwindled as the kung fu boom died out, and after Chee’s death his society fractured into different, smaller, groups, but they are all still teaching his system today.

Having practiced the Tu Shou form myself, I think that it’s essentially what Ashida Kim is using as the inspiration for his Kinji-Te form in the video.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that both forms are identical to an old karate, or Aikido form I don’t know, and if they are, then please tell me. The origins of Chee Soo’s martial arts are hard to prove themselves, the story being that he was taught everything by an old Chinese gentleman he met in London, who later adopted him as his nephew. However, it is documented that Chee Soo studied Judo, Aikido and Kendo and mixed with many other martial artists of the era.

But Occam’s Razor (and the use of the phrase “poison hand”) would suggest that one of these individuals probably copied the form from the other. (Another thing about the video that struck me was that the salute he does right at the start is exactly the same salute that I learned in a Feng Sau class).

The question then becomes…. who stole what from who?

 

Tu Shou in print.

You can read Chee Soo’s biography on the Amazon page of “Taoist Art of Feng Shou”. I think it’s pretty accurate and gives dates for various things. Of particular interest here:

“In 1973 Chee Soo and his daughter Lavinia made an appearance on BBC One’s Nationwide where they demonstrated Feng Shou Kung Fu to presenter Bob Wellings in the studio giving practical demonstrations of the power of internal energy or Chi. He also talked about the history of Chinese Martial Arts. The hallmark of his style was the relaxed technique and the emphasis on non-competition.”

You can view this video here:

So we know that he was teaching this form in the early 70s. In 1974 Chee Soo published “Teach yourself Kung Fu”, which contained the Tu Shou form. So, the Tu Shou form would have been available in print for people to view in the ‘70s, and also was being taught in public classes.

This would lead me to conclude that Kim obtained this form, if only by reading a book, from Soo, and used it as a basis for his “Kinji-Te” form. After all, the book was called “Teach yourself Kung Fu“…

If it quacks…

This whole investigation has made me really consider the role of lineage in martial arts. What exactly constitutes a lineage? Can martial arts really be created out of nothing? If not, then can they legitimately be considered as part of the lineage of a previous art, even if there has been no direct human connection between them – no teacher and student relationship – and it all came out of watching a video or reading a book?

But what if it was only an idea that formed the link? Ideas about martial arts can inspire. Tai Chi is a perfect example of an art that appears to be inspired by Taoist ideas, yet there’s not actual, provable, Taoist connection beyond the realm of myth. And what if modern day Tai Chi is being practiced by somebody who identifies as a Taoist, or even has lineage in a sect of Taoism. Is it then a Taoist art?

Was Ashida Kim’s Kinji-Te form an original, old, Ninja form, or was it in fact, his creation based on Chee Soo’s book?

Perhaps the safest model to use is, in fact, the Duck (Sau) Test. If it looks like a duck sau, swims like a duck sau, and quacks like a duck sau, then it probably is a duck sau (Tu shou)!

green and gray mallard duck

Photo by Saeid Anvar on Pexels.com