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Zhi Shang Tan Bing

Today I went to lunch with Stan Henning, a former United States Army officer and expert on Chinese martial arts. Please see a partial list of his articles at the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai website. Stan knows much more about Chinese martial arts than I do about Karate... much, much, more.

Since we are both researchers, I mentioned to him that my sensei always warns me not to become better at research than Karate. I should not become a "paper" Karateman. In Okinawa, they would call such a person a kuchi bushi ("mouth warrior").

Stan said that the expression for this in Chinese (in which he is fluent) is zhi shang tan bing, which means "talking of soldiering on paper."

Often, a person who excels at martial arts is not a very good writer, particularly in English. Conversely, a person skilled at writing might be a poor martial artist. The ideal is to be skilled in both the pen and the sword -- scholarship and martial arts -- according to the maxim: bun bu ryo do.

If you have the chance to read any articles by Stan Henning, I highly recommend that you do so. He often writes articles and reviews for the Journal of Asian Martial Arts. Karate came from China (the original kanji for Karate meant "China Hand") and we can learn a great deal by studying the history and tradition of Chinese martial arts. But remember to avoid zhi shang tan bing.


Charles C. Goodin