The Golden Elixir, Identity and the Martial Arts

Scott Park Phillips discusses Daoist golden elixir theory and practice as they relate to martial arts, emotional transformation and identity. Tai Chi, Baguazhang and The Golden Elixir: Internal Martial Arts Before the Boxer Uprising ---

Can You Compare Cultures Somatically?

If you learn an art or a skill in one culture and then study it, or something similar, in another culture you might not notice how different it is. Comparing somatic (felt/kinesthetic) experiences across multiple cultures can give big insights into what is different or, on the other hand, what might be Universal. 

Let’s look at rhythm and its relationship to Dance-Martial-Arts. 

I first learned Modern Dance in the Western tradition and then Classical Ballet. Of course I grew up in multi-ethnic San Francisco and  already knew how to dance to popular music and a few Western folk dances. 

In Modern dance you are taught to count, the early modern dancers used hand-drums and beat out 3s, 4s, 5s, and 7s with various accents. The Dances followed the precision of the drum. 

A ballet pianist is told what to play by the teacher, the music is set. Sometimes the teacher will tell the pianist to accent the music in a particular way so that the dancers will match it. 

In African music the dancer is one among several poly-rhythms that fit together in a particular composition. When it works, you cannot tell who is leading, all the rhythms pull against each other to create a dynamic whole that fits perfectly together. It is a definite feeling. One drummer usually plays the dance accents and syncopations, and also the “calls” to change dance patterns. If the dancer is not fitting correctly into the rhythm, the drummer won’t play the accents. It is a weird feeling, an absence or a separation.

The subtext of what I am talking about here is authenticity. It can be faked. And in the era of Youtube it often is. …..
The rest of this post is available on Patreon for $10 a month, I am currently experimenting with making a living.

Patreon is Coming

I’m moving things over to Patreon but it is taking time. I expect to have the Patreon site populated with videos and files by the end of this week (it looks good but it I don’t have much up there yet). Here are a few of the promo-video’s I made for the jump. They are still in “unlisted” mode but I wanted to give my regular blog readers something to chew on while the main meal is still cooking.

What is China Doing?

  • Soft-power

  • Rule the world

  • Revenge

These are the three explanations for the behavior of the Chinese government. I think Long-Game Revenge is the best explanation for Chinese government behavior.

Zhang Weili knocked out UFC Women's Strawweight Champion Jessica Andrade in just 42 seconds during the UFC Shenzhen main event to become China's first ever UFC title holder in Shenzhen, south China on Saturday.

Why do I think Revenge is the best explanation? Well, every Chinese child learns the the King Goujian Fairytale and everyone uses the expression “you haven’t tasted bitter,” from that fairytale. The quick version of the story is that King Goujian lost his kingdom and instead of being executed, his conquerers let him live as a slave cleaning out the horse stables. He was nice and didn’t complain, so they let him go after 20 years. He went home and secretly raised an army. He put a bitter gallbladder above his door and every time he passed under it he licked it to remind him he was seeking revenge over the long term. He also wore a fur coat in summer and went bare-chested in winter.

Guandi and his sworn brothers.

Guandi and his sworn brothers.

Long-game Revenge is simply the flip side of Confucian Reciprocity. It is also closely related to the Chinese idea of Loyalty. The God of Loyalty is Guandi, he is also the god of war and the god of accounting. The sacred play Three Kingdoms, which tells Guandi’s story, it is hard to tell where loyalty starts and revenge ends. They blend together.
As I explain in my book, China was conquered by the YMCA, which worked hard to end Opium Use. Part of the strategy for ending Opium Use was to blame it on Imperialism. The East Indian Tea Company of the British Government and others, worked hard to sell Opium to China, and fought a couple of minor wars to implement their strategy. But the Chinese people had little memory of this and did not think of their opium use as having any outside cause. That was something YMCA people taught in Chinese schools. Anyway, that is the backstory for this article.
Massive Fentanyl Shipment from China Seized in Mexico

This is 25 tons of Fentanyl which Twitter says is enough to kill everyone on earth. On shipment. From Shanghai. A port completely controlled by the government.

Meanwhile the soft-power project is turning into a battle of who controls the god Nezha. Mainland China put out two huge government approved versions of the Nezha Story in the last few years. They are trying hard to turn this Rebellious God into a Chinese Mickey Mouse, with no religious significance at all.


I suspect most of my readers are already hearing the China Wants to Rule the World narrative. It certainly looks that way if you simply look at the Uprising in Honk Kong and the CCP’s response to it. I’ve posted about Belt and Road and the Surveillance State a few times so I won’t repeat those arguments here. Read something by Gordon Chang or Christofer Balding.

Now take a look at this temple destruction and ask yourself if this is Soft-Power, World Domination, or Revenge? Bitter Melon Temple Destruction.

Reversing What You Know

Keith Johnstone, one of my mentors, created his approach to Improvisational Theater by reversing everything his teachers taught him. Crazy?

Most curriculums in the West are progressive. Learn this, then this, then this. Each step will get you closer to the skill or knowledge.

We also have modular curriculums. Learn this, or this, or this. It does not matter what order you learn them in because all the pieces fit together loosely, like a tool kit.

In India, Japan, and China, they have Great Works curriculums. After learning a few basics, you get a complete work and are sent off to copy and perfect it. This will take years because the Great Work is an example of the fully developed art form. For example, in my second year of studying Tabla, my teacher gave me this exact composition to work on. Here he is performing it.

Martial arts are the same way. You learn a few stances, some basics, and then you learn an elaborate form (taolu) which takes years to master.

I wrote about all this in a philosophical post back in 2011 The Perfect Martial Arts Curriculum. Check it out.

But I have a new take on all of this.

The Chinese internal martial arts can be described as a type of curriculum which reverses or inverts the previous lessons. We might call this the Trickster Curriculum. Reversal is a defining characteristic of The Golden Elixir, a meditation practice which reverses the order of perception-action. I know. That sounds weird, maybe even a little crazy. I am working on the idea of broadcasting a Clear Signal.

The Immortal Zhang Sanfeng created Tai Chi by combining martial skills with The Golden Elixir and to quote from a famous epitaph, “He thereby flipped the art of Shaolin upside down.” Chinese Nationalists and Communists both wanted to hide the origins of Tai Chi because The Golden Elixir was associated with the invulnerability and magical martial art of the Boxer Uprising. They wanted to replace “crazy” Reversal Curriculums with Progressive Curriculums. Mr. Science, Mr. Education, and Mr. Democracy (I know that sounds crazy in hindsight, given their true Authoritarian colors, but that was their propaganda).

But how do I get this Signal Clear? Zhang Sanfeng was a religious myth, an important magical character from the theater who was incorporated into religious culture as a teacher of The Golden Elixir, a Sexual Trickster, a Tantric Healer, and the Creator of Tai Chi (or internal martial arts originally). He was not a small fry, he was a guy credited as the source of mass religious movements in Ming Dynasty China. Up until my book was published this year, all English language discussions of Zhang Sanfeng claim he was not associated with martial arts. But I show in my book that he was a fighter in the theater, which is how people knew about him. There was only one Immortal Zhang Sanfeng and he was both a character on the stage and a statue in the temple associated with the magical ability to Fight without Fighting.

How was Zhang Sanfeng able to Fight without Fighting? By reversing perception. Here is a list from my book.

List of Reversals.jpg

I am flirting with teaching this on Patreon for $10 a month, which includes overview videos and simple lessons, or $50 a month for coaching, consultation and precise details. Thoughts?

I am also so over Social Media, but have been convinced that I can start and run a Closed Facebook Group that will have a totally positive dynamic. Thoughts?

If you are anywhere near Boulder I am diving into teaching again. I have a free Daoist Cultivation Push Hands MeetUp group now on Tuesdays.

How is my Signal? Is it Clear?

The Tantric Buddhist Roots of Chinese Martial Arts

This could be the title of my next project. It is coming into focus. There is more and more evidence pointing to common roots. Tantra and the Golden Elixir? Invulnerability meets extreme vulnerability? The Diamond Body meets the Cloud Body?
There is already a body of research pointing the way.
Start with this wonderful article in Tricycle Magazine Matthew Gindin, “The Buddhist Roots of Tantric Yoga.”
Then read Meir Shahar’s essay “Diamond Body: The Origins of Invulnerability in the Chinese Martial Arts,” in Perfect Bodies: Sports Medicine and Immortality, Edited by Vivienne Lo. London: British Museum, 2012. It makes parallel arguments to the first article, as if they were coordinating to build a single road connecting different cities and planning to meet in the middle. It’s not on the internet, but there are two copies in my Library loan system and it is available here on Amazon.

The essay I wrote with Daniel Mroz “Daoyin Reimagined” for the Journal of Daoist Studies, also carves out some of the rocky parts of this path of inquiry, (available here with all my free reads.)

I did not take this question on directly in my new book, but I did address the transgressive nature of the God Nezha and the Immortal Zhang Sanfeng and their connections to Martial Arts. It is now possible to carve through time in the other direction and show their connections to Tantric Buddhism. The early textual integration of Tantric Buddhism and Daoism has already been pioneered by many scholars, see for example Christine Mollier’s book Face to Face.

New tasks for the Somatic Historian!