Taiwan Project

This is the first day since I arrived in Taipei that I’ve really rested.  It was raining the day I arrived but it’s been clear all week until today and I must say the rain cooled things down a bit.  Air conditioning is necessary for thought, I actually feel my brain turning off and on as I walk in and out of the heat.

I went on a reading frenzy in the two months before I came and it has continued since I arrived.  On Friday I met with professor Paul Katz in his office at the Academia Sinica and he gave me three papers to read and made a number of further suggestions for future reading.  Two of the papers were on the organization of martial cults, dance procession groups dedicated to martial deities and exorcistic rites.  The third paper was on the roll of justice and judicial thinking in Daoist ritual and its relationship to a wide range of social institutions including martial cults. He has been very helpful in introducing me to other scholars here too.  Our talk was less than an hour but it gave me a lot to think about and helped me organize my ideas from the point of view of a research project which is turning out to be essential for speaking with other scholars.

The next day I met with Dave Chesser of the blog Formosa Neijia.  We had a wide ranging talk about life in Taiwan, martial arts gossip, and business.  As readers of his blog know, he has a real talent for encouraging friendly open debate and we talked about how he can use that skill and experience to build a school integrating kettle ball training and martial arts skills.  He has read all my father’s books on business so we really got into how to translate my father’s ideas about what makes a business flourish into the Taiwanese context.  As all business people know, being in business means constantly refining and adapting what you do through trial and error.  And that takes time.  In my opinion he has what it takes to be successful and he’s off to a good start.

Dave convinced me to take a class with He Jing-Han (his blog is:  http://tw.myblog.yahoo.com/hejinghan-bagua).  Master He taught a three hour class in the park behind the big public library (where students on the weekend line up 2 hours before opening time, just to make sure they have an air conditioned place to study).  The class was focused on a linear form of baguazhang he calls baguaquan, the form can be seen on his Youtube channel.  This form is just a small part of what he teaches year round and I got the impression that his style of baguazhang is organized very differently than mine.  In fact, of all the things I’ve studied it most resembled the mixed internal/external Lanshou system I originally learned from George Xu 20 years ago.  I would love to come back and get a sense of the full scope of what he teaches, this guy is a living treasure.

Shirfu He is a warm and gracious guy.  After class we went to lunch for two hours and had a wonderful talk about Daoism and the history of internal martial arts.  When I told him about my project He suggested that martial cults were created for group fighting while martial arts are focused on individual fighting, but he conceded that it was quite possible that historically people practiced and taught both together.  He also made the important point that what he teaches has changed dramatically from what his teacher, born in 1906, taught.  He suggested it was nearly possible to comprehend how his teacher thought about the arts, considering he lived through such different and turbulent times.  Going back 5 or 6 generations is really stretching credulity.  I know he is right and yet the project seems important anyway.  I think it is worth while trying to understand not only what teachings have been discarded or changed, but why.

I also had the opportunity to meet twice with Marcus Brinkman.  Once for a Chinese Medical Cupping treatment (my whole back got cupped with more suction than I’ve felt before!) and once for a Baguazhang lesson on his roof.  He is a fun guy with an in depth knowledge of Chinese medicine and substantial martial prowess.  He gave me some really good theoretical explanations about the relationship of internal martial arts and medicine, but I’ll save them for some future blogs. (I need time to digest them!)

Yesterday I met with a Professor of Daoism named Hsieh Shi-Wei.  I honestly believe he is the first person to really understand the full scope of my project and he was very encouraging!  More on that later.

Other highlights--
People are warm, kind and helpful.  The subway and bus system in Taipei works like a charm. I don’t even have to pull my pass out of my wallet because it has a radio chip in it, I don’t even have to slow my stride when entering and exiting the subway!  Taipei is much cleaner than I imagined it would be, public bathrooms are much cleaner here than they are in America.  I went drinking at an outdoor beer factory and a dinosaur bone covered bar.  I’ve enjoyed asparagus juice, salt-coffee, a mug-bean smoothie, tons of interesting street food, seaweed chips, a harrowing scooter ride, and I stubbed my middle toe black and blue hiking in the mountains.

I have one more meeting here in Taipei tomorrow and then I think I’m headed for the south.