Defeat All Dirty Power!

IMG_1497Below is the text of the flyer for George Xu's latest public offerings in San Francisco.  It's poetry, of a sort.  The first time I met George was around 1990.  My first teacher, Bing Gong was making a formal introduction on my behalf.  George was briefly delighted and then went into a wild rant about how everyone was doing Tofu Tai Chi.  He proceeded to define and contrast Tofu Tai Chi with the other cosmological possibilities and then began demonstrating maximum spring shaking power as the antidote to all this squishy food practice.  I was hooked.

In case you are wondering, "dirty power" is anything generated from a body which does not conform to the principle of "Dead physical body"  --Also known as XU, which was the topic of my last post.


2011 Seminar with Master George Xu

Seminar 1: Master George Xu will teach Chen Style Tai Ji , secret of max gravity, 3rd level of internal power, pure and large internal power, form and Tai Ji push hand principles, and Wu Tang Qi Kung. Unit empty pure force will defeat all dirty power force and weak force.

Seminar 2: Master George Xu will teach Xing-Yi Six Harmony - Ten Animals, Xing-Yi 10 principles, 10 different circles, Seventh Harmony to the enemy and Eighth Harmony to the universe, 3 level of 10 Dan Tian training (small internal, large internal, space spiritual Dan Tian), and Qi Kung training.

Seminar 3: Master George Xu will teach Ba Gua basics and dragon eagle form, Ba Gua snake, dragon, tornado, three different power, Ba Gua principles and usage. Dead physical body follow intelligence internal power and pure internal power follow space spiritual power.

Seminar 4: Master George Xu will teach new secret from Europe, Tai Chi form and principles, two men training, test your internal power perfection, intelligence and purity. Tai Ho of Tai Chi, Natural style secrets. Teach you to be as powerful and wild as tiger, fast as lighting, large like ocean, spiral as tornado, heavy as mountain, light as feather at the same time.

Fee:  $120 one day, $180 both days

Please register in advance.


1. Feb. 12-13 Sat & Sun 9-5pm

2. March 5-6 Sat & Sun 9-5pm

3. March 26-27 Sat & Sun 9-5pm

4. April 30 - May 1 Sat & Sun 9-5pm



Also: Rory Miller will be in the San Francisco Bay Area again Feb. 18th-20th.  Check it out!

Me & friends at Rory's workshop in last September Me & friends at Rory's workshop in last September

New Classes

I'm in the thick of it again.

Tai Chi and Qigong starts up again this Wednesday Jan 5th, 2011, at 5841 Geary Street, 6 to 8 PM.

Bagua Zhang and Qigong start up Thursday morning Jan 6th, 2011, Douglass Playground 6 to 8:30 AM.

All in San Francisco of course.  But I'm available for private lessons in Marin too since I live near the bridge.  I take phone calls if you have questions...415-752-1984.

This week I'm beginning 10 new children's classes in Northern Shaolin as a Performing Art in schools, that's in addition to the 2 I'm already teaching.


I had a great vaccation, did a ton of reading and practice, I didn't check my email or phone for 14 days.  Yeah me.


I have a new theory I'm excited about. I'll just share it with y'all briefly because I'm headed to bed early these days.

Here are some interconnected notions.

1.)  The frontal cortex of the brain is the part we usually associate with "thinking."  The frontal cortex counter-intuitively has a largely inhibitory function.  We don't usually think of  "thought" as a form of inhibition but it turns out that if I think about jumping out the window my brain does most of the things it would do if I actually did get up and jump out the window.  But in addition to all those things my frontal cortex inhibits my movement. That's why you can improve a skill just by thinking about doing it.

2.)  The various nerves which send messages from the body to the brain operate at different speeds.  Some of them are lighting fast, like the nerves sending information from the eyes, the ears, and those involved with spacial awareness.  But the nerves which send messages from inside the body to the brain are much slower.  Naturally, as martial artists we should instantly recognize that any information received from the slow nerves inside the body would be useless in a self-defense situation.  As Rory Miller puts it, "Time is damage."

Thus; the reason we practice internal martial arts slowly is to first make sure that we are not inhibiting any movement on the inside.  Inhibitory movement includes many things like stabilizing or rotating individual joints or holding strength in the abdomen.  Once all that inhibitory tension is gone then we can move (spread?) our mind to the outside of the body, to the fast nerves, to the instantaneous awareness of plastic and dynamic space.

As I have been saying now for about a year now-- body inside the mind, not mind inside the body.


Also check out Rory Millers new workshop in SoCal, he is hinting at another one in San Francisco soon too.


Happy New Year!3221829804_94d1960374

Wednesday Night Tai Chi

Just letting folks know that the Wednesday night Tai Chi class I started recently in San Francisco is lots of fun and going strong.
Tai Chi & Qi Gong, a ritual of relaxed action:

Wednesday 6PM to 8PM

5841 Geary Street, @ 23rd Avenue (above Thom's Health food store)

The next group of five classes is Nov. 17, 24, Dec. 1, 8, 15   (5 classes for $125).

The last week of the 8 week session is next week and new students are welcome to drop in on that to get a senses of what we are up to before signing up for a whole session.

(There will be no classes Dec. 22 & 29)  The next 8 week session will begin Jan 5th.


In this class I have broken amazing new ground, mostly thanks to my amazing students.

I have been using the Daoyin  Cat and the Daoyin Dog movements as a way to introduce people to Taijiquan.  Since Daoyin starts from an animal-mind on all fours in a very theatrical way, it is an easy way to make an experiencial bridge between the yogic hermit practices of Taijiquan and its theatrical ritual practices.

The studio has a beautiful foor for rolling around on.  The cat and dog movements are also much easier to relate to as types of aggression than the classic yet abstract peng, ji, lu, & an.  I have discovered the obvious; some people are more dog-like, and some people are more cat-like, and some people are more cat in their legs and more dog in their torso...Cool right?  My theory is that each Taijiquan movement needs a balance of cat and dog, so if it's too dog we add a little cat, and if it's too cat we add a little dog.


This is more Monkey than Dog, and what we are doing in class is only on all fours, but still a fun video.

New Tai Chi and Qigong Class

back2Tai Chi & Qigong: 8 week session starts September 22nd, 6 PM to 8 PM.

Class location:
5841 Geary Street

@ 23rd Avenue

1st Hour Qigong

2nd Hour Wu Style Tai Chi

$200 Donation for eight Wednesdays.

Call 415. 752.1984

or email gongfuguy@gmail L0036007 Daoyin tu - chart for leading and guiding people in exe

to sign up!


The space I'm teaching in is above Thom's Natural Foods on Geary Street.  It's quiet and has great natural light and a new wooden floor too.

If you have a health or movement oriented business, or belong to an interesting club, and would like to display some pamphlets about my classes I would be delighted to send them to you.  Just let me know.


(This is my latest marketing rap, feed-back welcome!)


The purpose of all qigong methods is to move with a completely relaxed body in harmony with ones surroundings. There is a saying, “Forms are like blades of grass.” In other words it doesn’t really matter much which forms you practice because they all do pretty much the same thing. There is no doubt that the ability to relax both conscious tension and deeper unconscious tension has extraordinary therapeutic benefits. The best style of qigong is the one infused with life. The purpose of having a teacher is to teach you how to do that yourself, slowly, gently, over time unraveling the stale patterns stored in our bodies, thereby freeing our minds and spirits to act in harmony. We call this nourishing life.

TAIJIQUAN (T’ai Chi Ch’uan)...

is a traditional Chinese art known for its gentle power. Its beautiful silk-spiraling movements emphasize transformation, improved circulation, extraordinary balance and meditation in motion.
There are many reasons people decide to study Taijiquan. Some are looking to try something new. Some have tried it before, perhaps they learned a form and now they want to explore it in depth. Others have a really active life and seek new ways to move which will relieve stress while improving efficiency, alignment, and spacial awareness.
tuishouTaijiquan has also been a gateway for many people to explore culture, philosophy, art, literature, history, changes in diet, lifestyle and even world-view.
In addition to public classes Scott Phillips has been teaching at the American College of Traditional Medicine in San Francisco, where Taijiquan is a vigorous part of the curriculum for adults of all ages.


Here is the link to the classes page on my website.

Here is a description of qigong.

Here is the description I put up on facebook.

Hope to see you next week.

When Singing is like Fighting

become-a-singerI may be having an effect on George Xu.  Recently he compared singing on a stage to fighting.  He said the first time a person goes on stage before an audience they usually hunch up their shoulders look at the ground and sing in a soft squeaky voice.  After years of training and performing when a singer goes on stage before a large audience, it just gets them excited.  The bigger the audience the more heart they put into it.  This is because they have trained their spirit/mind to match the size of the audience, a bigger audience  will automatically produce a louder voice with greater projection and grander gestures.

With fighting it's the same.  The beginning fighter tenses his shoulders up even before the enemy makes contact.  He shrinks and defends, he freezes and thinks of escape.  However, with experience, the fight becomes a moment of excitement.  The greater the challenge, the greater the excitement.  "Oh, look a big guy.  Great!"  "Oh, he has a knife. Even better!"  "What's this? he has a friend with an iron bar coming too?  Wow, my lucky day!"

The fighter automatically expands his spirit/mind to match the size of the challenge.  The bigger the challenge, the more power and agility the fighter will use.  It is thrilling and exhilarating.

tiger-vs-elephantReaders may be thinking, "What? Is he talking to me?  I never get into actual fights so how could I learn to turn fear into excitement? And why would I?  I have a mortgage to pay!  I have to drive my kids to roller derby lessons!"

But this misses the point.  For a song to have meaning it must include its audience.  Whether we are singing to our shower head or a stadium of 10,000, the song has to be for someone (or something).  If you are singing to your lover about a bluebird you have to include both of them in the song.  You have to feel both of them viscerally.  To really get good at singing a song you have to emotionally embody it over and over.  After a time the emotions aren't surprising or overwhelming but they can still be exhilarating.  They are still real.

Fighting is the same.  In fact, all movement training works the same way.  If a person is running fast down a hill through the woods spontaneously dodging trees, leaping logs and avoiding pot holes, he is not going to be thinking about body alignment or ankle flexion.  That person is going to have his mind "outside" of his body.  His mind will be spatially excited and agile.  The same is true if you are training in a quiet park, a walled garden, or a serene dojo.  Or rather it should be.  The best quality movement training uses a totally quiet, relaxed body with a wildly active mind.yellow-spur-ledge

So now go back and do your cute little qigong exercises or peaceful taijiquan form and imagine you are on the edge of a thousand foot abyss.  Imagine you are surrounded by hungry tigers.  Imagine you just jumped out of an airplane and you are in free-fall.  And don't just imagine it, feel it-- be afraid, be very afraid.

Golden Bell vs. Iron T-Shirt

Hammering a Gong Hammering a Gong

At the recent Daoism Today conference in LA, in addition to presenting my unfinished paper, I did a participatory demonstration of many of the elements of Northern Shaolin, daoyin, taijiquan, and baguazhang which are theatrical, and appear to be connected to exorcistic rituals.  Most of the responses were positive and encouraging.  I did the demonstration on the first day of the 4 day conference so I had lots of time to respond to peoples comments and to hear suggestions.  Zhou Xuanyun is a Daoist priest/monk who is married and lives in Boston.  He describes himself as Zhengyi (Orthodox Unity) but he was trained on Wudang Shan which is a center of Quanzhen (Perfect Reality) monasticism and martial arts.  His comment, which he made through an anthropologist, was that he didn't understand how I could practice both Daoist (taijiquan, baguazhang) and Buddhist (Shaolin) styles of practice simultaneously--wouldn't the training methods undermine each other?

My first response was that my first teacher's teacher, Kuo Lien-ying, practiced theater, Shaolin, taijiquan, and baguazhang.  The anthropologists loved this answer because finding an actual person who embodied both traditions and saw no contradiction in practicing them both is their gold standard.  The anthropologist view is that the continuity of culture is unbroken.  To say continuity or tradition is broken is to apply some external idea of purity to a culture which never had it.  So actual informants are king.  I may not be doing them justice but I think that is the gist of their view.  I tend to see the idea that Shaolin (Buddhist) and Taijiquan (Daoist) would need to be kept separate as a contemporary political contrivance.  But I must add here that the anthropologists are doing a wonderful job of gathering detailed accounts of living and recently passed Daoists. This is fantastic stuff.  (More on this in a future post.)

Hammerng by hand Hammerng by hand

Zhou's challenge is still serious.  He is right that the practices seem different and sometimes contradictory in methodology.  Teaching a lot of Shaolin does disrupt my bagua and taiji practices.  But I think this has less to do with method and more to do with the type of trance and energy expenditure necessary to teach kids classes.  I might just as well ask, how can a person do Daoist practice in Boston?  Isn't the chaos of urban America too much?  I would hope that the answer is no, disruptions are not enough to negate strongly held commitments.

Historically speaking, I could spin this argument a lot of different ways but taking the time right now would be too much disruption of my own practice.  Instead, I can make the argument simply and quickly.

One of the founders of the Boxer Rebellion (Yi He Quan) was a martial artist famous for his "Golden Bell" practice.  This practice was said to be the original basis for what became the much derided Boxer Rebellion claim of invincibility to bullets.  Golden Bell is still a common form of conditioning.  The term conditioning here means a method of developing resistance to, or protection from, strikes to the body.  It is a kind of toughness.

Tuning a gong Tuning a gong

The other common type of body conditioning is called "Iron T-Shirt."  Golden Bell and Iron T-Shirt are good stand-ins for the larger argument between the internal practices of taiji and bagua on the one hand, and the external practices of Shaolin on the other; Golden Bell is internal, Iron T-Shirt is external.

The methodological difference between inner/outer or Shaolin/Wudang (Buddhist/Daoist) is resolved by looking at the convergence of these two practices.  Iron T-Shirt is a process of rubbing, pounding, massaging, scraping and hitting the surface of the torso.  Over time it makes one tougher and more resistant to strikes by thickening the surface, strengthening the bones, and desensitizing one to the shock of being struck.  Over time the differentiation between outer toughness and inner softness becomes stronger and more prominent.  At that point the process begins to reverse itself.  The external surface becomes quiet while the inner softness becomes more lively.  One no longer fears strikes to the surface because the differentiation of a lively, soft interior makes it is easy to move the vulnerable inner organs out of the way.

Golden Bell works by the opposite methodology.  It starts from the inside.  One relaxes and empties the torso of all tension, initially testing the torso for uniformity as a container of qi, like casting a bell, or tuning a gong.  The density of the surface of the bell must be uniform, and the interior of the bell must be free of tension, imperfections or obstructions.  Over time, the differentiation of inner liveliness and outer stillness becomes more distinct.  Once this distinction is achieved it is tested the same way Iron T-Shirt begins, with rubbing, pounding and strikes to the torso.  If the process has been completed correctly strikes to the quiet relaxed surface of the torso do not disturb the internal organs because they can be easily moved out of the way.

Learning martial arts, whether internal or external is always a disheveled process.  No two teachers use exactly the same methods.  External and internal methods are both defined by long lists of preliminary, basic, advanced, and extra-curricular experiments or exercises.  Two different schools rarely produce the same fruition, regardless of whether they share the same "internal" or "external" designation.

I see the fruition of martial arts as a type of freedom.  People are very nearly robots, our actions are usually predictable and automatic.  Martial arts training, both internal and external, is a way to become unglued from our robot nature.  Whether we call that robot "inner" or "outer" doesn't make a whole lot of difference.

(more on gongs, here and here)

Martial Arts and Meditation

Standing still practices are widespread in the Chinese martial arts world.  Most styles have some type of standing still practice, and most qigong is derived in some degree from these practices.  For the sake of explication I'm going to divide stillness practices into two halves-- meditation and power-stretch.  Power-stretch is a group of methods dealing with the transitions from stillness into movement and will be the subject of a future post.

Meditation is only half of the big subject; "stillness practices."  But meditation in the martial arts happens in both movement and stillness.  The most difficult thing for modern people to understand is that meditation training requires no instruction.  It is not something we do with our minds.  Meditation is not a clearing process or a form of mind-body repair.  The martial arts are loaded with many different types of trance which do such things, but meditation is simply not a mental process.

The most common type of meditation in the martial arts is the practice of a form.  In order to practice meditation using a martial arts form one simply does the form.  (This is true regardless of the style, shaolin, taijiquan, baguazhang, or something else.) Do the form without self-correction.  Do the form without any attempt to make improvements.  Do the form without thinking of applications.  Do the form without any agenda or focus, and you will be practicing the most basic and essential form of martial arts meditation.

Standing meditation is essentially the same.  Stand in a posture which makes it easy to be still and discard the idea that stillness has an agenda, a focus or a reason.  Some postures are easier than others, and for this reason having a teacher to correct your posture is very helpful.  But whether you have a teacher or not, basic standing is practiced daily for one hour.  After about 100 days the posture itself should start to reveal effortlessness.

The subject of trance in the martial arts can be divided into three basic categories, all of which are total sensery experiences.  However; for the purpose of explication, each of them can be distinguished by the ways in which they use visualization.

Before I describe them, let me make it clear that I believe one should first practice a form, devoid of planning, agenda, magic, power, or utility.  However, being a realist, I know that it is a rare student who comes to the martial arts without an agenda of fighting, prowess, heroism, health, vanity, or the desire to dominate.  The old masters got around this by insisting on total subordination to the teacher.  In my world I offer limited fulfillment of these "martial wonders" up front-- from day one.  Through developing a personal relationship with my students I can slowly introduce the practice of emptiness and having a "zero" agenda.

In other words, the "zero" of martial arts meditation, and the one, two, and three of "power-healing trance" (see below), have no inherent order.  They can be taught in any order-- in a disheveled go-with-the-flow way.  However, at some point that zero-emptiness meditation practice must be established or the student will not have a dantian for their practice.  The word dantian (literally cinnabar field) refers to a large empty space for doing ritual.  It is most often described as a location in the center of the body; but as metaphors go, we could also describe it as a container, a vacuum, or silence.

The three types of visualization:

1.  Deities.  These are aspects of truth and nature.  Some have biographies, or histories, and some do not.  They are known by a list of their attributes which are then visualized in front of the martial artist, then above one's head and then descending into and merging with the visualizer.

2.  Environment.  One can visualize walking on a lake, in mud, through clouds or on a high mountain ridge.  There is really no limit here.  In baguazhang for example there are visualizations of walking through a tunnel of spiraling fire, or being surrounded by five mountain peaks.  One can also visualize abstractions like the eight trigrams of the yijing (I-Ching) transforming into each other.  Probably the most common thing to visualize is martial applications of fighting techniques.

3.  Visualizing spaces within the body.  For instance a huge palace can be visualized at the throat notch, or two deities sitting on your kidneys.  Spaces can be empty or full, vacuous or active, dark or light.  Spaces can be finite and solid, or infinite and formless.   Basic "dissolving" practices like ice to water, water to steam fall into this category.

The three categories can overlap each other.  A deity can be both inside and outside the body.  The boundary between inner and outer can dissolve.

Next week I'll deal with the power-stretch half of stillness practices...ways of understanding transitions to movement.


Weak Legs

sai ping ma horse stance1A 9 year old student asked me during class the other day if I did any strength training.  I did my teacher thing and screwed up one side of my face while bulging out my eye on the other, "No," I replied,  "Do you do any strength training?"  This kid admitted that he didn't but I could see by the way he looked at the ground that someone had been trying to breed a feeling of deficiency in this kid's head.  Now we aren't talking about just any old 9 year old, this kid can walk across the room on his hands and he can do a press handstand from a straddle position on the floor.  So I said, "OK, you stand in a low horse stance and I'll put all my weight on your shoulders and you try to lift me up."  I leaned down on his shoulders and lifted myself up on to the very tips of my toes so that he had about 150lbs on his shoulders.  He then stood up with out even a second thought, lifting me into the air.  "That was easy right?" I asked.  "You could lift two adults couldn't you?."  "Yeah," he said, looking a little brighter.  "So you're strong enough already right?"  He just looked at me, unsure what to say.  "Now you have to figure out how to transfer the force of your legs to your arms.  That's what you need to work on."  And then we got back to the two-man form we had been working on when he asked the question.

If any of my readers doubt the above anecdote I challenge you to do the experiment yourself.  Find a small healthy kid, 5 to 8 years old.  Show them how to do a horse stance and then try putting all your weight on their shoulders.  As long as the kid's back is straight and her legs are aligned to take weight she should have no trouble lifting you up.

Why is this relevant?  Why now?

On my last trip to China I wandered all over Ching Cheng Shan mountain in Sichuan.  The "trails" are mostly steep stone stair cases that wind up into the clouds.  If you are lazy and have a little cash, you can hire two guys to carry you up three miles of stairs in a litter made with some cloth and two bamboo poles.  The guys who do the carrying all day long during the tourist season have pencil thin arms and legs.  They are skinny enough to be run-way models at a fashion show.  Their leg muscles do not bulge.

Likewise, I studied twice with Ye Shaolong, the second time I trained with him everyday for three months.  He is probably the world's greatest master of what George Xu calls "the power-stretch."  He uses low, slow expanding movements to develop explosive and suddenly recoiling power.  In his 70's, Ye Shaolong is one of the skinniest people I have ever met. He has no muscle.

In my early twenties, with ambitious winds blowing, I took to standing still in a low horse stance with my arms horizontal to the ground out to the sides, for one hour. I did this everyday for a year.  (20 years later, I still stand for an hour everyday but not all of it in a horse stance.) For the first few months, my thigh muscles got bigger, but then a funny thing happened.  As my alignment and circulation improved, my thigh muscles, my quadriceps, started to shrink.  After a year of this kind of practice my thigh muscles were smaller than they had been when I started.  And by the way, I wasn't just standing, I was training at least 6 hours a day and I didn't have a driver's license so I was also riding my bicycle up steep San Francisco hills as my sole form of transportation.  I'll say it again, my muscles got smaller.

Ouch! That's got to hurt Ouch! That's got to hurt

Most people who practice martial arts actually never learn this because they don't have the discipline to pass through that first gate.  At the time, I was just like everyone else, I believed that I needed to improve my strength.  I now understand that strength itself is an obstacle to freedom.

The internal arts of Qigong, Daoyin, Taijiquan, Baguazhang, Xingyiquan, and some of the the mixed internal-external arts like Eight Immortals Sword, all have ways of training that do not require building strength.  Some Shaolin schools have these methods too.  In fact, under the proper guidance of a teacher, with a natural commitment to everyday practice, anyone can use these arts to reveal their true nature.  A true nature which, like that of your average 7 year old, is already very, very strong.

On this blog I have explored many justifications for the cultivation of weakness.  For instance:

--it makes you more sensitive,

--you need less food (making it possible for more people to eat in times of food scarcity),

--you need less energy to exercise leaving more energy available for other pursuits,

--it's better for circulation in times of less activity (which is what we are doing most of the time anyway),

--your movement is less conditioned to a series of set responses (spontaneously agile),

--and you don't need to wear spandex.

But the number one reason for not developing strength is that healthy human beings are already strong enough.  Even 5 year old children are very strong.  The problem is that normal human beings have disrupted the integration of natural, untrained strength, into their everyday activities.  This happens first of all in the arms, which develop both fine motor coordination and repetitive patterns, both of which leave the arms disconnected from the natural strength of the torso.  Also, adult hormones, particularly male hormones, produce muscle really easily if we prime them with lots of food and reckless exercise.  By reckless exercise I mean games or athletics that cause injuries.  Small injuries to the legs will instantly cause a healthy male to develop big thick quads, it can happen overnight. Once these arm and leg problems are established they become habits.  But natural strength doesn't go away, it's waiting for us just under the surface.  The real problem, the only real problem, is the fear that we need to be strong to face life's challenges--the notion that we need strength to prevail.

The likelihood of injury from strength training, by the way, is the reason that people who do strength training have to create all sorts of schedules to "cross train" the various muscle groups.  These people are now arguing that all training is actually in the recovery! Weird.

Fu4And don't get me started on core strength....  OK, it's too late.  Core strength is just a marketing scheme, like Green architectural-design-dog-walking-nanny services.  It just sounds good or something.  It plays on peoples feelings of insecurity and guilt.  There is no core that needs strengthening to begin with, but even if such a core existed, the market is saturated.  Every type of movement training from Yoga to tiny-tot-tap-dancing now claims to be good for your "core."

Here at North Star Martial Arts we specialize in Core Emptying!

That's Right! All negativity is stored in the inner "core"--known traditionally as the mingmen or "gate of fate."  Sign up for this once in a lifetime offer of 12 classes for only $99 (that's a $1 discount) and you will get a bonus "card" to keep track of your first one hundred days of Cultivating Weakness!  Empty your Core Today!  (Say the words "relax your dantian," or Tell them you heard it here at W.W.A.T.)

Like aggressive advertising, strength obscures our true nature.

Martial artists who try to develop strength are preparing themselves for some future attack, the nature of which is yet unknown.   I'm not against strength, heaven knows people love it, I'm just against the argument that we need it.  Anyone who says Chinese Internal Martial Arts require a person to develop strength is confused about the basic concepts.

note: (If you are a bit of a sadist and want to watch some people squirm, I'm about to post this at the unhinged Internet forum Rum Soaked Fist! check it out.)

Mish Mash

This was my day to blog.  After teaching 5 and a half hours this morning, 3 and a half of it in the cold, two indoors, I was ready for a nap.  I slept from 1pm until 5pm.  Whoops that was my day to blog.  Well, never fear.  I have a bunch of small crunchy bits for y'all to chew on.


I love this picture series of Liu Fengcai doing Baguazhang.

In these pictures he is emphasizing polarity in his body created by the combination of "monkey doesn't want to go to school" and "effortlessly floating the head upward." The two forces create extraordinary external wrapping of the soft tissue around the torso and the backs of the legs-- this is evident in the shape of his hands.  Sweet.  (The artist's sketch underneath is an unnecessary distraction, but notice he added the drawing 4th from the left which breaks several baguazhang rules.  The arrows are misleading too.)


Only Comics and Dogs Wiggle their Head!

For all the hemming and hollering I’ve heard over the years about the importance of keeping the head upright as well as contrary opinions in favor of practicing dodging and ducking with the head, I am delighted to let everyone know that the controversy was created entirely from the denial of gongfu’s theatrical origins.
Here is a video of me doing an 8 part warm up that came from Kuo Lien-ying which I have been doing for 30 years.  After reading Jo Riley's book Chinese Theater and the Actor in Performance.  I've changed three of the movements slightly (I'll have to make a new video).  I'm very sure that I've been doing the exercises slightly wrong for all these years because I was limited in my view and simply didn't understand the original instructions.

Number 2 in the series is for training the basic heroic stance and should be done with the chest lifted more than you see here.

Number 3 is the basic comic stance and should be done with the tailbone back, the belly out, the arms straighter, and the head lifted.  In this position it is OK if the head wiggles because that's what comics and dogs do to show their lower statues.  It's so much better this way.

Lastly the 8th stance, usually called "chin to toe," is used as a mind clearing exercise by performers back stage immediately before they perform.  It should be done with the kidneys forward, not back as I've shown in the video. Thanks Jo, that tiny bit of information unlocked a lot of secrets for me.  (Yes, there are secrets.)


Disheveled and in disarray...

is a good description of all of my Daoist studies, as well as all my “progress” in martial arts.   I have followed my teachers in trying to transmit brilliant structures, orders, and systemizations in my writings.  However; the reality is a lopsided, languid, sometimes choppy, sometimes flowing,  unwieldy beast.

Occasionally I pick up a comment saying I'm too organized.  Reality doesn't fit in boxes.  Thanks for pointing that out.  All systemizations are also limitations.  All stated orders are incomplete.  The truth is always available in completely undifferentiated chaos (huntun), just waiting for you to stick your head in there and pull it out.

Occasionally I have received friendly comments here and on various forums which describe my thinking as mystical.  While I realize it is silly of me to take umbrage at this, it does rub me the wrong way.  I’m not personally interested in a mystical journey.  I’m not declaring that everything I say is a concrete metaphor, yes, my metaphors are sometimes misty or even foggy; but I am not on a mystical journey.  Sometimes looking in at something new or foreign from the outside creates a mystical feeling in the observer, that's fine, but please tell me if you think I’ve become rooted in anything less than what is absolutely real.


Chinese Martial Arts are a treasure...

but they are a changing treasure.  The Daodejing mentions three unchanging treasures, hold and preserve them!

The first is compassion.  (We're talking predator drone, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in the thick-of-it,  compassion-- not moral platitudinous, bumper-sticker yoga compassion like, "Do no harm.")

The second is conservation. (No not greenness people!  I’m (in the) black and I’m proud!  Business is the most effective social mechanism for conservation ever-- cut your costs, improve your efficiency-- now let excess, laziness, misty eyed romantics, hysterical greenies, and inferior products and services die.)

The third is not imagining yourself to be at the center of the world.  (Duh!)

The three treasures do not lend themselves to fame, or charisma, or even claims of authorship.   Each person, or family, or community, or nation, or institution can find its own way to express these treasures.  But it's not hard to see why one might be inspired to live like a hermit.


Cold!  Lively!

I love being outside this time of year!  When the temperature drops the surface of my body cools down, but the inside stays hot.  This is an ideal condition for cultivating the Daoist elixir practice (jindan) and martial arts in general.  Why?  Because jing and qi differentiate more easily.  Our structure, the heavy stuff we are made of, jing, is easier to feel and therefore relax because it is cold on the surface.  And our qi, the activity, the motion, the animation, is more obvious on the inside.  It hums and vibrates.  Explosive power is more available.  In stillness the qi wiggles deeper into the bones, making whatever it is you practice irreversible.  People who get lazy about their practice in the winter months miss out on the best season. THE BEST!


Here are some websites I found interesting:

OK my home-slices, keep it real.

Big Muscles

muscles_human_body_backAs someone whose job it is to translate ideas from one culture to another, the pressure to use more familiar language is always floating around in the background.

Many people would like me to describe the fine details of Chinese Internal Martial Arts using vocabulary from sports or physical therapy.  This is always problematic for two reasons.  First, one can only go so far describing kinesthetic experiences before one starts  sacrificing subtlety--language is an imperfect tool.  Second, by discarding Chinese concepts, one loses the primary organizing metaphors of Chinese culture, and what might be simple suddenly becomes complex.

Still, sometimes we give in to the pressure.  Today is one of those days.

There are three big muscles on our backs which are extremely powerful and efficient. Unfortunately, the problem with humans is; we don’t use these big muscles very well.  Our arms are just too smart. We habitually use our many smaller arm muscles to do complex and repetitive tasks.  This is the cause of a lot of stress and tends to shorten our lives.  For this reason advanced internal martial artists have developed ways to make use of the three big muscles.

We evolved these three big muscles as four legged creatures with our torsos parallel to the ground.  This is important because on a horizontal torso the three big muscles hang  in a relaxed way towards the front of the body (originally the underside).

  • The diamond shaped Trapezius muscle hangs from the spine wrapping the ribcage towards the arms.

  • The Latissimus dorsi muscle hangs from the spine around towards the belly and reaches around to the inside of the arms.

  • The Gluteal Fascial muscle complex hangs off of the lower spine and pelvis onto the outsides of the legs.

If you naturally move from just these three muscles, you are probably a very strong and efficient cave man--because this is not how humans normally move.

To activate these three muscles is a fairly complex process.  Normal sports training doesn't do it.

First we have to get them to hang loosely.  Most of the time when we are moving around or working, the three big muscles are being used for stabilizing.  They stabilize the pelvis, the spine and the arms.  (This is an important function in the event that we get hit by a car or a buffalo, but it isn't necessary to walk around all the time using these muscles as stabilizers.)

LatissimusBasic structure training in Internal Martial Arts gets us to stop using these three big muscles for stabilization by getting us to put our weight directly on our bones.  The other 400 or so smaller muscles in our bodies are then used to focus force along our bones through twisting, spiraling and wrapping.  In that sense, the early years of internal martial arts training teaches us to use our muscles like ligaments; or put another way, the primary function of the smaller muscles becomes ligament support.  (To develop this capacity in ones legs requires many years of training.)

Once the three big muscles are relaxed and loose and the rest of the muscles are being used for ligament support, a transition begins.

The transition is difficult because it requires turning off the active quality of the smaller muscles. The main function of the smaller muscles then becomes simply to transfer force or weight from outside the body (like from an opponent or gravity) to the three big muscles of the back.  The smaller muscles also have a minor secondary function of changing the direction of force coming out of the three big muscles.

This minor secondary function is not to be confused with active control.  To make this transition means practicing doing nothing with your arms for hours everyday and connecting the unengaged emptiness of your arms to an equivalent lack of active muscle engagement in your legs.  (In practice, this usually looks like loose flailing or slow spongy movement.)

trapeziusThe three big muscles are already so big they don’t need to be strengthened but they do need to be enlivened.  All three muscles should be like tiger skin or octopi, able to expand and condense and move in any direction.  They then can take over control of the four limbs in such a way that movement becomes effortless--even against a strongly resistant partner. If you accomplish this all of your smaller muscles will be doing the task of transferring force to the three big muscles---preventing an opponent from being able to effect your body through your limbs.  Yet whenever your limbs make contact with your opponent, he will be vulnerable to the force of your three big muscles.

In the Taijiquan Classics they call this, "I know my opponent, but my opponent does not know me!"

(Note: weightlifting/surgical ideas about anatomy are so dominant that the gluteal muscle fascial complex doesn't actually exist as a picture on the internet.)