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?