Japanese Martial Arts, (Part 1 of 3)

Modern Japan brings to mind images of steaming noodle bars, teeming streets, cutting-edge fashion, world-class technology and innovation, and, of course, stunning natural landscapes. Beneath the surface of this diverse culture, however, there beats a very ancient heart. The battlefield arts that have existed in Japan for millennia have greatly influenced Japanese culture, thinking, and history but, in the context of martial-arts history, the permutations that have become incredibly popular around the world-such as karate, aikido, and judo-are relative newcomers.

Japan is one of the major regions from which most of the martial arts practiced today originate. Only China and Korea can boast a similar heritage. In addition to the influence of its ancient traditions and battlefield arts, Japan has also made many important contributions to modern martial-arts practice. Perhaps the most well-known and widely adopted is the colored belt system-used to grade students according to rank and experience. Belts range in color from white through the spectrum of the rainbow to black, after which different degrees, or “dans,” are awarded. Devised in the 19th century by Kano Jigoro, the founder of judo, the system is now used in many fields of martial art.

Judo was also one of the first of the martial arts to be thoroughly codified. By combining the throwing and grappling aspects of jujutsu with elements from other wrestling arts, and standardizing the new art into a coherent system, Jigoro sowed the seeds for the sporting phenomenon that judo has become. Although many of the techniques were already prevalent in wrestling arts around the world, the standardization of the judo training syllabus allowed it to be taught easily, and to a good standard. This undoubtedly led to judo’s widespread and rapid popularization.

Voices from the past

The ancient warriors of Japan left behind a fascinating legacy of literature devoted to the martial code and the philosophical thought of the warrior. Bushido: The Soul of Japan, written in 1899 by Inazo Nitobe, popularized the term “bushido,” meaning “the way of the warrior.” As a code, bushido cites seven virtues that are held in the greatest regard within the warrior culture: honor, loyalty, courage, benevolence, justice, veracity, and politeness.

The Forty-Seven Ronin, the true story of an event that came to represent the ideal of how warriors should behave, provides an earlier example of Japan’s martial literary legacy and the ethical code of bushido. The story revolve; around 47 samurai warriors in the service of Asano Naganori, the Lord of Ako, on the island of Honshu. While on a visit to the court of the Shogun of Tokyo, Naganori was insulted by another Lord, at which point he unsheathed his sword and struck the man had offended him. It was considered extremely bad manners to draw a sword in the court of the Shogun, Naganori was ordered to commit “seppuku,” a ritualized form of suicide. On his death the 47 warriors became ronin – samurai without a master – and vowed vengeance on the man who had insulted their master and provoked his suicide. They left their homes and families to enact a plan of revenge. To avoid raising suspicion, they posed as drunkards on the streets Tokyo for almost two years, until an opportunity arose on December 14, 1702. They crept into the Lord’s home and killed him, immediately surrendering themselves to the authorities, even though they knew their actions were punishable by death. They then committed ritual suicide at the tomb of their late master.

Although today we may consider this to be an extreme example of loyalty, it highlights the tradition from which martial artists fashion their attitudes and underlying philosophical principles.

Martial Arts Equipment

Backpacking Information on Armenia

  • Population: 3 million (UN, 2005)
  • Capital: Yerevan
  • Area: 29,743 sq km (11,484 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Armenian, Russian
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 68 years (men), 75 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 dram = 100 lumas

Barev dzez! Welcome to the Republic of Armenia – the home of sluvaki, the special kebab. She’s a tough cookie to write about, owing to the longer air time infamous, not-so-young Hollywood, Armenian Kim Kardashian has than Armenia’s actual current affairs. Scratching the surface, there is indeed more to Armenia everybody should know as it is its ancient cultures 3 millenia hence that bred the start of the modern Armenian civilization. This is a place of inspiration, appreciation and tasty kebabs. They say, “Behind every great man is a woman,” and she better be Armenian, because Armenians are good at providing that essential inspiration. You would be surprised at how rich a culture is to be unveiled of this marvellous country. Cognac, anyone? This Armenian-style brandy or Ararat was behind Winston Churchill 400 times (or bottles) a year. Genats!

Or perhaps Da Vinci’s shows this great Armenian inspiration in his painting of the Last Supper more than the world cares to know or notice? From travel to or studies of Armenia, Da Vinci’s amazement can’t be directed to. After all, Armenia has pioneered more than a thing or two, for it is, 1,700 years ago, the first to declare herself as a Christian nation in 301 AD. And although they may have been ousted and slaughtered in the Armenian genocide of 1915, one of the first modern genocides, for possibly this reason or the theorized cause of preservation of Turkish national unity, Armenians remain to be as homogenous and united in their faith as ever. It is a fact that the Turks did destroy all Armenian bibles and manuscripts, Armenia’s most valuable cultural inheritance.

Armenia was a former Soviet republic but now possesses its own identity and absolute independence.

GEOGRAPHY

Armenia (40 00 N, 45 00 E) is a landlocked nation in the Lesser Caucasus Mountains, 29,743 km2-small, northeast of the Armenian Highlands. Highlands is definitely a suitable name as the region is, to a greater part, mountainous and volcanic. The lowest point in the country stands at an astounding 400 metres above sea level, the Debed River, which is way out of comparison to Maldives’ 2.4-metre summit. This little but no lesser nation however has BIG things to boast such the Sevana Lich, the largest lake in the mountain range, as well as the second largest in high-altitude lake in the world, and the colossal Mt. Aragats or Aragats Lerrnagagat, the tallest elevation of the range at 4,090 metres above sea level. There is significantly little forest cover but arable soil in the Aras River Valley. Some fast running rivers are crucial water sources, but as it is landlocked, to add to the high demands of water from the vital Sevana Lich for hydropower, insufficient drinking water source is problem on some occasions.

CLIMATE

The climate in Armenia is a wonderful highland continental with the landscape and location offering a different kind of cool or heat whatever the guest prefers like tropical rain forests, snowy-white mountains, hot summers and things and places in between. Summers are warm and sunny and lw in humidity from June through September with temperatures of 22-36°C, while winters are extremely cold with almost intolerable cold temperatures between -10 and -5°C.

PEOPLE

The Armenian population has boomed from last year to early 2010 with a high count of 3,215,800 early this year 2010. As one of the most ethnically homogenous countries in the world, 98% of the population are Armenians, and the remainder percentages are Yezidi or Kurds, Russian, and others are Assyrians, Belarusians, Georgians, Greeks, Kurds and Ukrainians. In relation to the homogenous demographic, ARMENIAN, an especially unique language, is the single official language with RUSSIAN also widely spoken conversationally by the vast majority (75.8%) and, thus, is the de facto second language. ENGLISH is acknowledged significantly as a global language and attempts are made to improve on the language but one thing is for certain and that is Yeravan, as a developed capital city, English is widely spoken.

RELIGION

It is of immense significance to say that the Armenians are beautiful people on the inside and out. As a people with big hearts, besides past tragedies and traumas, they are openly proud of their most prized trait- hospitality. They are ever since, and to this day a kind-hearted Christian nation with 94.7% as Armenian Apostolic Christians, and other forms of Christianity such as Baptists and Presbyterians form 4%, while around 1 % practice a certain monotheism with nature worship elements.

ATTRACTIONS

And as the world’s first Christian nation, rich culture and heritage retains evidence in the places of worship, the monasteries spotted on the countryside, that are, at present, neither svelte nor sinuous as whence it first stood. While most of the culture and legacy of among the first bibles, Armenian bibles, and Christian manuscripts are lost to the Armenian genocide, the traveller will be constantly reminded of Armenia’s role in Christianity with the hundreds or thousands of ancient monasteries and classic churches, a lot of which were torn down by USSR. This is called “monastery-hopping.” As one of the Burger King-free countries, Armenia retains immense exoticism, just as it is in Debed Canyon where history and culture is more packed than any other place here. This is one of the best places to start the traveller’s Armenian adventure, the feel and picturesque of the place best achieved at night- the only Saturday night fun in these parts. Most suggestive is the Sacred Stones of Armenia or Pietre Sacre d’Armenia, the epitome of Armenia’s ancient Christian architecture. Surely is one of the many places here where artists come and develop a new inspiration and appreciation for the world, like this one.

Sanahin and Haghpat are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but the trees are long gone, and the monasteries scarce and dilapidated. The history nonetheless remains and continues to tell the story. When all that silent and remorseful recollection is done, time has come to enjoy Armenia’s winter sports galore such as skiing down Tsakhkadzor Hills, 30 minutes outside the hustle and bustle of main man, Yerevan. Other fun activities include camping and hiking, rock climbing, and wind surfing, and among the best places to do these in are Lake Sevan, Mt. Ararat, Echmiadzin, Geghard, Garni, Hripsime, Sardarapat, Surp, Virab, Xor, and Zvartnoc. What a mouthful!

And shopping is best only at Vernissage, a weekend flea market near the Republic Square. As much of Armenia’s history and legacy has been deleted and gone forever, its story remains with the modern Armenians, the new generation who bears the trauma as well as the future. Here is where that adage holds true, that it’s not just the places you go, but the people you meet.

FOOD

There’s only one venue where ties with new Armenian friends are iron-bound- the dinner table, of course! This is the place to enjoy endless and bottomless konjac, as well as the freshest and tastiest vegetables and grilled meat kebabs. Armenia is the home of a certain sluvaki, kebab, or khorovats-the most redeeming feature of Armenia. This is normally served with Armenian bread, tomatoes, eggplants, and bell peppers too. However it’s called, no place in the world makes a better kebab-licious barbecue. Khash, dolma or stuffed grape leaves, and borscht or beetroot soup are among the traditional Armenian dishes. Armenia soil gives off that special and unique fresh taste in their fruits and to die for are the peaches, grapes, apricot, and pomegranate.

The Great Pyramids of Egypt – A Legacy of Diligence and Imagination at Work

“From atop these pyramids forty centuries look down upon you”Napoleon Bonaparte 1798

The great Pyramids of Giza defy age. Though there are over 100 pyramids throughout Egypt, these behemoths with a monstrous height of nearly 500 ft. and covering over 13 acres of land stand out proudly piercing the landscape, a core source for the rest of human history.

On the edge of Cairo, the Pyramids of Giza loom above the grey blur of the city’s skyline which merges seamlessly behind them. The 3 Pyramids of Giza were built as tombs to hold the physical bodies of the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, best known by their Greek names respectively as Cheops, Chephres and Mycerinius. The greatest of these is the pyramid of Khufu (Cheops), who moved his court and residence here from Memphis when he became king of Egypt. Arguably, this is one of the best man-made structures in the world. Named by Herodotus as one of the 7 Wonders of the World as early as the 5th Century BC, it is the first and only survivor!

The Pyramids were shaped to imitate the Benben, a similarly shaped stone found in the earliest temples, which symbolized the primeval mound from which life emerged. According to Egyptian mythology, the sun god, Re, rose from the primeval mound to create life, thus the pyramids’ shape was directly associated with Re. By ancient Egyptian cosmology, Re reigned in the East, so that the rising of the sun, hence life, was linked to the eastern bank of the Nile. Here the towns and temples of ancient Egypt were built. The west bank, the domain of the darkly-aspected god Set, was associated with the setting sun, or death. It is here, on the very edge of Set’s domain that the Great Pyramids sit.

The construction of pyramids started with a surge of building which began during Egypt’s 3rd dynasty between 2650-2575BC. Royal pyramid building ceased entirely during the reign of the New Kingdom after 1295BC. Pyramid construction evolved during this period and was the result of centuries of experimentation, development and cultural adaptation as it became standardized. The pyramid complexes included a main pyramid with a surrounding courtyard, a much smaller cult pyramid housing the king’s soul, a mortuary temple set next to the main pyramid, and an enclosed wall and walkway leading to a valley temple, and in some cases, smaller subsidiary temples or tombs for family members.

Pyramid construction adhered to strict orientation of cardinal points and its alignment had to conform to true primary coordinates by stellar measurements. In terms of size, technical construction accomplishments, cardinality and the organization required for their construction, the Great pyramids represent a phenomenal effort.

Beyond the pyramids, the mystical apparition of the Father of Terror, the Sphinx, continues to guard over the royal burial chambers of the pharaohs, keeping its secrets to itself.

Today, the Great Pyramids serve as a backdrop for continuous bustle and activity, including, among others, artistic displays, musical performances and races. The most exhilarating activity, however, is a climb up the pyramid steps. Of the many, many steps, each as high as a table (2-5 ft.), a climb up is a muscle-straining, excruciating, exhausting and very worthwhile experience!

The pyramids, a symbol of long-lasting durability, were already as ancient to such visitors as Alexander the Great as ancient Greece is to us today.