Got a Nice Review

I just got a nice review of my book Possible Origins. It was done by Edward Hines over at i-Bagua, check it out!  And then, of course, buy the book and write your own review.

This is really a wonderful review that includes my Tai Chi video and a wonderful little clip from the BBC show Body-Mind Kick-Ass. Best name for a show ever. 

Ed Hines starts off buy reminding us how closely connected we all are in the martial arts world, and how my tendency to mis-behave in public can haunt me. I apologize for handling things poorly, I crossed some lines. Being right on the issues is not usually what people remember, they remember how badly I act. I will try to be better. And I am honored to have the opportunity to make new friends.

I deeply appreciate his in depth reflections on the book. One quibble he had was with regards to my suggestion that Daoyin predates Martial Arts. He is correct that such a statement depends entirely on how these two terms are defined. My view has developed a little since I published the book so allow me to clarify the point below.


If martial arts is defined broadly as "combat skill," it goes back to single celled organisms. If it is defined by written discourse about hunting or battle, it is one of the first things ever written down. If it is written stories about sword dueling masters in China, it is about 2300 year old. If it is court documents about wrestlers, acrobats, or martial rituals done by people wearing animal masks, it is about 2100 years old. If it is written documents describing martial displays of acrobatic skill by the military, or plays with fighting scenes, it is somewhere around 1300 to 1000 years old. If it is written descriptions of forms (taolu) at Shaolin Temple it is five, maybe six hundred years old. If it is written discussion about lineage transmissions it is even more recent.

The term Daoyin can itself be traced to about 2400 years ago, where it was described as both medical remedy and long-life practice. There is a documented history of its progressive development in nearly every century into simple forms, proscriptions, enlightenment practices, immortality pathways, self-healing, hermit lifestyles, ritual purification, visualization of internal rituals, and its eventual incorporation into the performable arts of Shaolin Temple sometime around 1500.  It was often described as passed on from student to teacher, via "jia" 家 a term meaning lineage or family. 

 Image from Shaolin Temple prior to its Burning in the 1930s

Image from Shaolin Temple prior to its Burning in the 1930s

Theater was transmitted via jia 家, as early as the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). I argue that Daoyin was incorporated into theater around this time as well, which is why when martial skill became a performance tradition at Shaolin Temple, it was natural to integrate it with Daoyin lineage transmissions.  Daoyin lineages brought enlightenment and ritual knowledge to the theater arts. Daoyin brought a certain enlightenment-in-motion and physical prowess to the Buddhist monastic tradition.  And both theater and monastic Buddhism integrated martial prowess with Daoyin as embodied storytelling. The job of being a monk is in fact a type of lifestyle acting, the job entails moving and behaving in a way that demonstrates enlightenment and embodied merit. The "warrior monks" were presenting themselves as moving models of a purified diamond mind-body, capable of wielding the "truth cutting" sword of Manjushri, via chanting, talismans, and of course, the performance of martial prowess. 

 Monk demonstrating his merit as a way of raising funds. 

Monk demonstrating his merit as a way of raising funds. 

My views continue to evolve and I would just like to take a moment to invite more people to enter both the conversation and the living tradition.