Shuji Shuriken

[A repeat from June 9, 2016] Kenjutsu is the overarching term for all schools of Japanese swordsmanship.  Swords.  Very important in the martial arts in Japan.  And to the samurai class.   The study of kenjutsu has been a sub-culture in Japan since feudal times.  For practice, they used the bokuto (solid wood stick) or shina (bamboo pole).  For battle, they used the real McCoy.    And only the most disciplined of swordsmen could repeat and internalize the magic words of the Shuji Shuriken — “the cutting of the nine ideographs.”  Only the most devout of Japanese swordsmen could give life to these nine words.  

U – Being 

Mu – Non-being 

Suigetsu – Moonlight on the water     

 Jo – Inner security 

Shin – Master of the mind  

Sen – Thought precedes action 

Kara – Empty:  the Void.  Virtue       

Shinmyoken – Where the tip of the sword settles.   

Zero – Where the way has no power. . . .

It was not enough to merely think or speak the words.  The words and their meaning must be summoned from deep within.  The thought was – if you get through the first one while meditating and contemplating, you’re doing pretty well . . . . .

Gum Behind the Ear

[A repeat from March 31, 2013]  When I was a kid, I chewed gum on the way to school.  Upon entering class, I would stick the gum behind my right ear.   Just behind the lobe.  At recess, I’d pull out the gum and start chewing.  I was reasonably efficient in this task as I could probably nurse a one penny piece of Double Bubble Chewing Gum for the entire day.   Ear.  Mouth.  Ear.  Mouth.  And so on.  I do recall that by the end of the day, the gum was always a little grittier – and saltier – than in the morning.  But hey — it was good chewing gum. 

Fast forward to last year.  I’m sitting on the train.  Reading.  And a couple gets on the train and plops down in front of me.  Probably in their late 50’s.   My gaze sharpens.  At first, it looks like the guy has a large and ugly mole on the back of his ear.   Just behind the lobe.   But then it comes to me . . . . oh my socks and shoes – this guy has a piece of chewing gum behind his ear!   Now mind you I haven’t put a piece of gum behind my ear since last week (YES I’M KIDDING) and I haven’t thought about the subject for about fifty years.  But wow!  It all came roaring back.  And I couldn’t resist. . . . click on the pic below and enlarge. . . . .  By the way, when the guy heard the distinctive “click” he turned slightly, plucked the gum from behind his ear and put it in his mouth.  Scout’s Honor. . . .

Gum behind the ear


I recently finished Bob Spitz’s delightful biography of Julia Child — Dearie. You may scratch your head when I say it was hard to put down.  It was.  What a read!  And what an amazing story of success.

Julia Carolyn McWilliams was born in 1912 in Pasadena, CA.  She attended Smith College and worked for several years as a copywriter in NY.  When World War II came along, 6’2″ Julia was too tall for the WAC’s or WAVE’s so she joined the OSS.  She was posted in Asia where in 1944 she met Paul Child – a low level career diplomat.  They were married in 1946 and Julia followed Paul as he was transferred to Paris. Julia was bored by the lack of things to do.  Sooo . . . she took up cooking and attended Le Cordon Bleu — the legendary culinary institute.   At the age of 39 she began teaching cooking to American women — in her small Paris flat.  And with two colleagues, she began writing a cookbook directed to American housewives.  After nearly ten years of writing and at the age of 49, her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published by Knopf.   Julia’s star began to soar.  A true outlier. . . . . 

In 1962, she appeared on Boston’s WGBH — a television program designed for the staid discussion of books.  Instead of sitting and talking, Julia arrived with food and paraphernalia (including a one burner tabletop stove) and — much to the consternation of directors — she insisted on cooking an omelette.   On camera!   The producers feared no one would ever watch WGBH again.  Of course, Julia’s appearance had the opposite effect.  Her success spawned her own show “The French Chef” and Julia became a household name.     

In 2004, Julia passed away at the age of 92.  Her kitchen was moved to the Smithsonian where it is on permanent display.   Bon appetit!


Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country (200 million).  It is a bit more than twice the size of California with less than 3% of the population over 65.  It is an interesting country — amazingly wealthy in natural resources (31st in the world in GDP) yet more than 70% of the populace live below the poverty line.  The country’s leadership over the years has been corrupt, venal and self-serving — sending billions out of the country for personal bank accounts. 

There are three main tribes in Nigeria:  the Yoruba (21%), the Hausa/Fulani (25%) and the Ibo (Igbo) (18%).   While there are hundreds of indigenous languages, English is the official language of the country.   Yoruba are half Christian and half Muslim.  But it is interesting that Muslim and Christian Yoruba get along just fine.   They intermarry and often attend one another’s religious services.  The Ibo are primarily Christian.  It is the Hausa – who are 95% Muslim – who seem to create issues — not only in Nigeria but also in the region.  The terrorist group Boko Haram is composed of violent jihadists (Hausa) who want to impose sharia law (see my post of September 8, 2016).   Boko Haram (means “Western education is forbidden“) has been an instigator of ongoing bloodshed in the northern part of Nigeria. 

There are a fair number of Nigerians in Chicago.  Most seem to be Yoruba.  A large number of cab drivers are Nigerian (see my post of August 19, 2012).    The Yoruba and Ibo assimilate reasonably well among other African nationalities.   Given the strategic location of Nigeria (coastal West Africa) and its tactical resources (mainly oil), this is one country we should really want to understand.   And – there are 11 golf courses in Nigeria.  And yesI am thinking about it. . . . .  

It’s all about the “dash”

[A repeat from March 23, 2017]  I read an interview with Julius “Dr. J” Erving. He was asked the question “What’s the best advice you ever got?”   He responded that it was learning one simple lesson: “It’s all about the dash.” The “dash” . . . . .

Dr. J explained that in the cemetery, every tombstone has two numbers: the year you were born and the year you die. And there’s a dash in between. THAT — Dr. J said — is what it’s all about. “The dash [is everything]. What you’ve done with your life and how you lived it are in that dash.” At some point, we are all going to have two numbers. And a dash.

In my post of April 26, 2014, I suggested that it’s better to be a thermostat than a thermometer. Thermostats take control. Thermostats are on the playing field. Scoring points. Making a difference. Making a dent. Thermometers sit back and . . . . just tell you the score. The dash on your tombstone can be a thermometer. Or a thermostat.

What’s in your dash?

The President’s Lawyer

When the United States House of Representatives delivered the Articles of Impeachment to the Unites States Senate, our President was forced to secure legal representation. As might be expected, he hired the best and the brightest to defend him.   After lengthy testimony and deliberation, the Senate found the President not guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.   And Andrew Johnson went back to serving as President. . . . .  

As some of you know, I have been an avid collector and dealer of historic autograph and manuscript material and occasional rare books.  Over the last forty-five years, my personal collection has focused on original letters and documents of famous lawyers.  The President’s famed lawyer — William Maxwell Evarts (1818-1901) is one of them.

Evarts came from a long line of distinguished Bostonians. After his successful defense of President Andrew Johnson in the 1868 impeachment proceedings, Evarts was named Attorney General. He became President of the New York Bar Association and led the movement to defeat the corrupt Tweed Ring. He finished his career serving as United States Senator from New York.

In these last four decades, I have acquired at least 33 handwritten and signed letters of William Maxwell Evarts dating from 1856 to 1893 – touching on a variety of topics.  But as with all things, the adventure will soon end.  The Evarts collection and my (one of very few) complete collections of original letters and documents of Justices of the United States Supreme Court will be on the auction block at the end of this month.  It’s been quite a ride – this collecting business . . . .