Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Discourse on the grading/sash system

This year I have put great thought into the development of a sash system that would reflect the Taoist roots of our art as well a provide a sensible system for martial development within it. I looked at many other systems for inspiration and corroboration. In the end, I wanted something that was truly reflective of my beliefs, in line with other martial arts, progressive and developmental as well as serious and effective.

A couple of months ago, we began implementing this system with the students at the dojo. The system that I have developed is only applicable to students that are studying Taiji as a complete martial art. This may be incongruous with some people’s beliefs that Taiji is not only a martial art, but it is my belief and opinion that to study any aspect of this art requires that you must study all of its aspects. With all of that in mind the following system was developed, the basics of which have already been shared with current students. I wanted to post a more in-depth explanation of the system, its underlying philosophical derivation and its relation to internal martial arts.

First, I was totally at odds with myself over the need for a ranking structure for quite some time. Taoism and truly traditional Chinese martial arts as I understand it had no formal ranking or belt designations. You were either recognized as senior or junior and followed the Wude (Martial Etiuette of the School). For this reason, I had resisted a grading system for some time. I did however recognize the positive benefit a ranking system had when it came to student motivation (although this argument could also be undone by bringing up the issue of ego). Being associated with Musha Dojo however gave me a different view on the ranking and tests in general. Every time a student tests, he or she demonstrates competency in all the skills leading up to and comprising the rank that they are testing for. In other words, when testing for a blue belt, the student must demonstrate competency on the material needed for a yellow, orange and blue belt. In this way, it preserves the forms and skills of the student as they participate in the testing system.

Blinding flash of the obvious, if I had come up through such a system, I would not have lost the many forms that I had learned and then practiced enough. I would have tested on them periodically after learning them. Voila, that was just the thought that I needed to sway me. Now I needed to either adopt a system, create one from scratch, or modify one that existed to my needs.

I began looking at all of the grading/ranking/sashing systems that I could find for Kung Fu, Taijiquan and Chinese Martial Arts in general. I know that many of the early Chinese Systems that were taught in the US adopted the Japanese ranking system of yellow through brown and then black. I did not think that that was quite the way I wanted to go. The Magic Tortoise School in Chapel Hill has a ranking system based on the Five Element system, now that certainly rang as more Taoist and related to Chinese philosophy. The Yang Family Taijiquan has a ranking system of metal types(silver, gold, platinum) and animals (dragon, tiger, eagle). None of these seemed to fit my need.

With the highest respect to the Magic Tortoise School, Dr. Jay Dunbar, Almanzo “Lao Ma” Lamaroux and Kathleen Cusick, I decided that the 5 element system would be what I would use. With the emphasis on Martial Arts that I teach and hold, I did need to modify it. With no further ado, here it and its justification are:

After 6 months of training the student is eligible to test for their green sash. The green sash represents wood. This representation further shows the commitment to the art, the commitment to have taken the time to plant the seed, the commitment to nourish that seed through continued study, the commitment to grow in the art, as a seed grows into a tree. This commitment is measured through testing of some very basic knowledge and applications and knowing the choreography of the first section of the Yang style form.

1 year of continuous study after receiving the green sash, participants are eligible to test for the yellow sash. The yellow sash represents earth, and as such is all about learning the foundation of the art. Whereas the green sash acknowledges the planting of the seed, the yellow sash is about the cultivation of the foundation represented by knowledge and competency in stances, chansijing(silk reeling), the 8 gates or eight applications of Taiji, the 5 directions or steps, etc. It is this foundation that will allow the student to reach higher skill level in Taiji than practitioners that focus excessively on form or application.

1 year of continuous study after receiving the yellow sash, participants are eligible to test for the silver sash. The silver/grey sash represents the element metal; it is representative of intention and shown through application. Once the foundation is complete, elements from the earth are brought forth, applications of forms are integral to this stage. Practitioners will be tested on their first weapon, they will also show competency in one step sparring. This focus on application will ensure that practitioners move towards a level of knowledge that allows for martial self defense and effectiveness.

1 year of continuous study after receiving the silver sash, participants are eligible to test for the red sash. The red sash represents the element Fire. This stage indicates effectiveness. It is fire that forges the elements from the earth into weapons. At this level the practitioner will demonstrate two person form work, utilization of internal principles in a sparring environment, and two person live weapon play(in the form of the san cai jian). If it isn’t obvious, this is the stage that martial development comes together. Fire’s representation of effectiveness translates in the practitioner’s ability to utilize Taijiquan in self defense, combat and competition. The Red Sash should indicate the transition from the Hand Stage of learning and performing Taijiquan to the Whole Body stage. Red Sash holders will be eligible to be assistant instructors for any Rou Long Ma program. Those interested in teaching will participate in additional teaching curriculum.

1 year of continuous study after receiving the red sash, participants are eligible to test for the purple sash. The purple sash represents water. This stage is all about flowing and non-resistance. Participants are tested on more weapons forms, and are expected to show self-defense against multiple attackers. Participants should embody the master key to taiji, shou e bagua, jiao ta wuxing. This will be demonstrated through the Bagua eight direction application drill. Water’s representation of flow is exhibited in the soft overcoming the hard; this sash is awarded when the practitioner’s movements flow like water. Purple sash holders that are involved in the teaching curriculum will be eligible/able to act as instructors for classes.

1 year of continuous study after receiving the purple sash, participants are eligible to test for the black sash. The black sash is representative of the return to wuji(balance, nothingness, void). At this stage the practitioner will be tested through additional weapons forms, will embody nothingness with efficacy in two person work (San Shou, Tui Shou, Sparring), will be tested in multiple opponent sparring and the dantien penny toss. Two person work with black sash participants should be like fighting air. This stage represents the transition to the mind stage of Taijiquan learning. Participants holding the black sash that have completed the teaching curriculum will be considered Shifu and will be eligible/able to open their own school to train others. Promotion and testing to the rank of purple and black sashes will be overseen by the head of the school system. Black Sash holders with permission from the head of the school system will be able to confer sashes below those ranks to students.

Junior age students will focus on the Tang Quan system and will have a different sash system.

Those that have digested this system to this point should be notified that this represents my musings on this program to date. It seems that revisions to date have been almost continuous, but since the implementation of the program have been minor. What I have tried to focus on in this discourse are the framework and intent of the program.

I do not anticipate graded levels above the black sash, it is my current opinion that participants that reach the level of black sash will have risen above the need for arbitrary ranking. Certainly any input to any of my thoughts in this discourse is welcome.

Friday, November 19, 2010

the week's lessons - basics and mastery

I am sitting here eating my Shrimp Mei Fun with spicy curry sauce reflecting on the week so far, and thinking about some things that have been standing out.

1. So much of the martial arts that we learn, as beginners, is not understood for years to come. I have experienced this myself, I have read about it, and heard it from students. Specifically, sharing this past weekend with one of my favorite students, who is also a student of Aikido, we were talking about a quote she had found in Aikido Journal. The quote was about focusing on kozushi. (Kuzushi (崩し:くずし) is a Japanese term for unbalancing an opponent in the martial arts.)I shared the quote with others, but not before I did more research (remember, I do not practice a Japanese Martial Art, nor do I speak Japanese.)During my research I found numerous stories of teachers that had shared an exercise called Happo No Kuzushi with students. In most cases, these students felt, at the time of learning it, that the exercise was just basic, only to realize years later that this basic was really a key to advanced martial arts.

I have my own Taiji based stories about this. How the more advanced I get, the more I appreciate and find that further advancement comes from additional practice and work with the basics. Interestingly enough, this view is in direct opposition to many folks, even those that have taken martial arts for quite a while. Many artists want to learn more, more techniques, more tricks, more moves, more forms. If we go back to the Taiji Classics, we should recall the Song of the Thirteen Postures. 8 gates representing applications, 5 energies relate to directions of stepping, these 13 postures are it, the most basic of Taiji. It all stems from the 13 original postures. It is all contained in the 13 original postures.

2. So much of mastery in anything that we do comes back to the basics.

Just like the students that took years to appreciate the basic exercises that we are given, my realization for a while is that Mastery truly is about the basics; understanding the basics, truly internalizing them, and utilizing them. One of my business associates shared the definition of mastery as the uncommon application of the basics.

Isn’t that really what Taiji teaches us, to take the basics and adapt them? Isn’t that really what the five families have done? Taken the 13 postures and shown us many more ways to apply them. I think it is.

I have even been reminded about this recently in Taiji. Ll of my current students are beginners. My classes focus on the basics, stances, leg strength, and the form. Daily I practice these with my students, and after a year of having not seen someone, they viewed a video of me, and noticed improvement. I attribute this visible improvement in my Taiji, not to any new forms, exercises or knowledge, but to an increased understanding an practice of the basics.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Not Taiji, but I just had to share.

I just had to share the email that I just got.

The following questions were set in last year's GED examination These are genuine answers (from 16 year olds)....and they WILL breed!!

Q. Name the four seasons.
A. Salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar.

Q. Explain one of the processes by which water can be made safe to drink.
A. Flirtation makes water safe to drink because it removes large pollutants like grit, sand, dead sheep and canoeists.

Q. How is dew formed?
A. The sun shines down on the leaves and makes them perspire.

Q. What causes the tides in the oceans?
A. The tides are a fight between the earth and the moon. All water tends to flow towards the moon, because there is no water on the moon, and nature abhors a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins the fight.

Q. What are steroids?
A. Things for keeping carpets still on the stairs.

Q. Name a major disease associated with cigarettes.
A. Premature death

Q. How can you delay milk turning sour?
A. Keep it in the cow.

Q. How are the main 20 parts of the body categorised (e.g. The abdomen)?
A. The body is consisted into 3 parts - the brainium, the borax and the abdominal cavity. The brainium contains the brain, the borax contains the heart and lungs and the abdominal cavity contains the five bowels: A, E, I,O,U.

Q. What is the fibula?
A. A small lie.

Q. What does 'varicose' mean?
A. Nearby.

Q. Give the meaning of the term Caesarean section.
A. The caesarean section is a district in Rome.

Q. What is a seizure?
A. A Roman Emperor.

Q. What is a terminal illness?
A. When you are sick at the airport.

Q. Give an example of a fungus. What is a characteristic feature?
A. Mushrooms. They always grow in damp places and they look like umbrellas

Q. Use the word 'judicious' in a sentence to show you understand its meaning. A. Hands that judicious can be soft as your face.

Q. What does the word 'benign' mean?
A. Benign is what you will be after you be eight.

Q. What is a turbine?
A. Something an Arab or Shreik wears on his head.

I laughed the whole way through this.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Master Martin's Magical Martial Tai Chi

So, what do you think of my new school name?

No, I am not serious. Today I went to a martial arts tournament here in Fayetteville, NC. There were two objectives. 1. I wanted to meet other like minded individuals in town, and 2. I thought that our school would support it next year if it was a good tournament. Well, let's just say that I left early.

Some things were however confirmed. There are too many teachers that want to be called master, sensei or sifu. As I was leaving I saw a young girl wearing a gi that was emblazoned with the name of the school on the back. Master Soandso's School of Karate. I just can't imagine, maybe that is what I am doing wrong, hence the funny name that we came up with on the way home.

Though there are legitimate martial artists and schools in Fayetteville, I did not see them there. The competitors were not well trained and the competition itself was just weak.

I really hope that the martial arts community here starts connecting more and that we get some venues for the kids and adults alike that would like to test their skills in a level appropriate manner.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Self Defense

The dojo that I am associated with here in Fayetteville is doing self-defense seminars for different organizations. I am especially proud of this fact because I think it is very important to work with the community. I also think it is very important for everyone to be exposed to the concepts of self defense.

I was reading another practitioner's blog complaining that this fostered the impression that all a person needs is a two hour class to be prepared for self defense. That is ludicrous to me. In my other professional life, I know very well that a person simply does not know what they do not know until they are exposed to it and then consequently learn what they do not know.

I am thinking specifically of a conversation that I had with a young lady earlier this week. She was interested in learning something that she could defend herself with. She said that she liked to think that she could handle herself in a situation. I went around the counter to demonstrate a concept and have to say that in my opinion, even if she tried her hardest to defend herself against a larger stronger attacker, she would not be able to start. I find this is more common than some of us may think.

In the self defense classes that we teach, we at least encourage the participants to strike, some of them for the first time in their lives. The most important thing that we can teach in a two hour seminar is mental. "Be aware of your surrounding". If you or a loved one has not been to a self defense class, (I don't mean a trial martial arts class, especially Tae Kwon Do) then you should find one and please attend it. Learn some of the basics, and then I highly encourage you to find a legitimate martial arts school that teaches martial arts, not sports. If you do not learn techniques that can be applied against a non-compliant partner, find another school. If your instructor cannot perform the technique against a non compliant stronger partner, find another school.

Your life is too valuable to fall for the hucksters and shams that exist.
“Silence is a source of great strength.” ~Lao Tzu

Friday, June 18, 2010

God has no religion.....Mahatma Gandhi.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that only creates sorrow." Lao Tzu

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"There is seldom any rational reason for having regrets about past deeds or events.
Because the past does not exist in any way other than in your memory." ~Paul Wilson

Monday, June 14, 2010

"He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self, and looks on everything with an impartial eye."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection. ~Buddha
and yes, Basil is leafy and green :-)

Friday, June 11, 2010

"A friend accepts us as we are yet helps us to be what we should." ~ author unknown

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

This is Major Tom to ground control

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pinky: "Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?" The Brain: "The same thing we do every night, Pinky try to take over the world!"

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Taiji this morning, then to the dojo for more Taiji, now a Caprice salad for Basil a leafy green?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
Lao Tzu

Monday, May 31, 2010

Spent the morning with a prospective Strategic Alliance. 3 hours later, it seems that International Business Fuel will be a great fit with XenosUSA. Keep your eyes and ears open, you will hear all about it.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Taught Tai Chi for Health this morning in Fayetteville, picked up some lunch and then cut the front yard, replanted some pampas grass, then cut the grass in the back yard for the first time this year.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Shrimp chow mei fun with Singapore sauce, good Friday night dinner.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

An ant on the move does more than a dozing ox.
Lao Tzu

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

To lead people walk behind them.
Lao Tzu

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.
Lao Tzu

Friday, May 21, 2010

Silence is a source of great strength. Lao Tzu

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Health is the greatest possession. Contentment is the greatest treasure. Confidence is the greatest friend. Non-being is the greatest joy.
Lao Tzu

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.
Lao Tzu

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.

Monday, May 17, 2010

To realize that you do not understand is a virtue; Not to realize that you do not understand is a defect.
Lao Tzu

Sunday, May 16, 2010

“Respond intelligently even to unintelligent treatment.”
Lao Tzu

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Top Sirloin hot off of the grill, cold Corona with lime...all I need now is a date to share it with...referrals accepted.
The classics hold the secrets to taiji, principles are the key...unlock this powerful art.

Friday, May 14, 2010

“Anticipate the difficult by managing the easy”
Lao Tzu

Thursday, May 13, 2010

“One can not reflect in streaming water. Only those who know internal peace can give it to others.”
Lao Tzu

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
Lao Tzu

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that only creates sorrow.

Monday, May 10, 2010

He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.
Lao Tzu

Sunday, May 9, 2010

All difficult things have their origin in that which is easy, and great things in that which is small.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
It's officially my opinion, iron man 2 topped 1.

Friday, May 7, 2010

In the world there is nothing more submissive and weak than water. Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong nothing can surpass it.
Lao Tzu

Thursday, May 6, 2010

If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.
Lao Tzu

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Great presentation at Business is Booming in Charlotte. You should have been here.
A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.
Lao Tzu

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
Lao Tzu
I think I have finally figured out what to twitter about.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How to Counter Joint Locks, Arm Bars, and Body Controls

Sensei Mark Sternlicht sent me an email with a link to this blog post. I thought it was definitely worth re-blogging. Pop on over to this site and read some of the things that I talk about all of the time. This is valuable information for any Martial Artist that incorporates locks into their art.