This is a good read on Chakras from  While the author doesn't go beyond Sanskrit texts, the back and forth between China and India between the 6th and 10th Centuries was vigorous.  Thus, it is not surprising that these ideas about a visualized and somaticized inner body transcending time and space would show up and develop at that time in both places with a huge variety of characteristics.  I might also point out that the so-called "emotions" he refers too could also be thought of as theatrical expressions of mood in the South Asian context.  That is, solo ritual expressions of mood were, like deity visualizations, connected to theater and dance as pervasive cultural narrative.   This post is just a teaser for my next big post on Monday...Oprah and Synesthesia.   

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Bio-Mechanics of Martial Arts

Bio-Mechanics of Martial Arts

I live in Boulder, Colorado.  If you get into trouble socially in Boulder, all you have to say is the magic word, "sustainability."  This works for all situations.  If the police are trying to arrest you, just say, "sustainability," and they will let you go.  If you step on someone's foot at the cafe, say "sustainability," and everyone smiles. If your dog barks at someone, if your goats get out of the yard and chew up the seats of your neighbor's convertible, if you forget a friend's birthday, just say "sustainability;" it is the universal safe word for Boulder. All advertising, marketing, education and politics uses the word "sustainability," in all situations. 

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Standing Still

Let's get some things straight.  There are standing postures in all Chinese Martial Arts.  The physicality of Chinese theater comes out of these same stances.  Many different religious traditions in China require participants to hold specific stances during ritual.  

The term most often used to refer to standing postures these days is zhan zhuang.  That term does not apparently make any distinctions between difficult jibengong basic training stances which are often physically difficult and painful for beginners, and standing meditaion which is only difficult because people won't let themselves do it.  

Also, zhan zhuang is probably not the correct term for describing these standing practices used in theater and ritual.  I think the term comes from Wang Xiangzai, if anyone knows different please let me know.

In the martial arts world, difficult standing postures are a key part of jibengong, or basic training.  After a student can do a falling stance with their butt on their ankle (feet parallel, one leg all the way straight, the other all the way bent), then I have them hold the stance with their hips (measured at the greater trochanter) one inch below the level of the knee. After they get that I have them hold it with the hips one inch above the level of the knee.  Then there are arm positions to add, and a few other tricks.  There are instructions like this for every posture in Taijiquan, Shaolin, or Xinyiquan.  Students often rebel, they don't like the pain.  They think I'm some kind of sadist, when the truth is I love them, they are my babies.  

There are a whole bunch of easier postures that are used for meditation, horse stance, post stance, and just simple knees bent, feet shoulders width apart, back straight.  When I say meditation I mean an hour of stillness.     (If the stance is on one leg, then it is a half-hour on each leg.)  Why an hour?  Why not?  Do you have some place to be?  Because if your mother is in the hospital or something you should probably get over there!  Or if you have a game of Frisbee golf to get 7 AM...hey that's important stuff!

Frankly I've heard countless explanations for why an hour is good. Yawn.  This is an experimental tradition, do your own experiments, find your own answers.  I've heard even more excuses from martial arts teachers about why they don't do standing practice.  Yawn.

The heart of the problem is in the framing.  If people don't understand that martial arts were fully integrated into religious ritual, meditation, and theater they are likely to come up with some argument about how long periods (really..., an hour is long?) of standing are not utilitarian.  Yawn.  Let's face it, if you haven't lived in a violent world with a violent lifestyle where you had to use moral (or immoral) acts of skillful force every few days you don't even know what utilitarian is.  

Here we go.  Movement is communication.  We are social animals.  The tiniest movements are communicative. If you hold your pinky out when you drink a beer you are communicating something.  Even if you are alone.  That's why people tend to freak out when they find out someone has been secretly watching them, even if it was just for a couple of minutes.  After going into complete solo retreat far away from other people for long enough, upon returning to society, one will be shocked by how much physical and mental attention goes into managing where everyone else is positioned, how they are moving, and what all those movements mean.  In other words, normal everyday human activity is intense, we are just used to it.  (Perhaps we could call this material "unconscious" or "sub-conscious" but...yawn...there is a lot of baggage there, and I like to travel lite.)

In the theater communication is king! and queen, and the forest and the grass and the mountains and the naked hairy wildwoman, etc.  Every movement matters.  The quality of every movement matters.  On the stage, everything gets seen (unless it is intentionally hidden).  In Chinese theater there is an expression, "The actor wears the scene on his body!" (jing jiuzai yanyuan shenshang).  Yep.  If a person's body is going to do this well, it requires the capacity to add and subtract tiny little details of movement.  That capacity comes from being physically and mentally quiet.  Standing still is key.

Ditto for religion.  Who is watching us?  Gods, ghosts, demons, our imaginary ancestors (hi grandma); what is it they are seeing us do? What is agency?  Is this my movement or am I just walking like John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever" because that was my favorite record album when I was 10 years old. Free will? Maybe, but then why do you put your pinky out when you are drinking beer?  

If our conduct is connected to our morality, then how we move is a profoundly moral issue.  This is a core concept of all Chinese religious expression, especially Daoism and Confucianism, yet there is hardly a better theological explanation for why Buddhist monks practiced martial arts at Shaolin temple.    

Occam's Katana

this is a KatanaOccam's Katana is not the name of the book I'm working on, although it might make a good chapter title.  Occam, a rather clear thinking guy who lived in the 13th Century, is the name we give to the use of a mental razor blade used for cutting out all the unnecessary theories and mind farts that tend to get stuck to the facts.  It is often stated as, the simplest and most direct explanation is the one most likely to be true.

But of course that is not always true.  For situations where theories (or even ideologies or hysteria) have had a lot of opportunity to co-opt facts or even pound and shape them, a more hefty device might be necessary.  Thus Occam's Katana is the tool you want for these bigger jobs.  

this is reel to reel filmI once dated a French woman whose name was Super Chick.  She had a job, I kid you not, at the Museum of Modern Art as an expert on painting on film.  You know film, the stuff that goes from reel to reel in a movie theater.  Apparently some artists have thought it a good idea to paint with paint on top of pieces of film.  Not as animation mind you, but as very small paintings.  Anyway it's a thing.  With a history and stuff.  

She also had a full collection of Post Modern theory in her apartment.  At that time I had already read the major theorists and such, my father had interviewed a number of them for his radio show Social Thought, and afterward he gave me the books.  I had also read several when I studied with Angela Davis, and it was a big thing in both the anarchist and dance worlds I travelled in.  But Super Chick had more.  And she had read them in both languages.  In fact, she had the extraordinary distinction of having been a personal assistant to both Richard Rorty, the translator of many of the French Post Modern Philosophers, and the film maker John Waters!  You know, the guy you always see in Facebook images saying, "Do not have sex with people unless they have a lot of books!"  

So I borrowed a short stack, thinking I might as well take this opportunity to up my game.  She had meticulously underlined large sections of text in pencil.  The problem was, I couldn't figure out why.  When we talked about it she admitted (perhaps an influence from Richard Rorty) that none of these books actually had any intrinsic value in the realm of ideas, but that they had an aesthetic value.  That's what she was doing with the pencil, marking things that were aesthetically pleasing.  

At that time there were only a small number of Post Colonial Studies Theorists, James Clifford comes to mind, but my take on them is they are a combination of Post Modern Theory and Marxism.  Which is very funny if you think about it.

Anyway all this is to introduce a book I have not read yet, I have only read this review of it by Paul Bowmen, Stateless Subjects: Chinese Martial Arts Literature and Postcolonial History, by Petrus Liu

No doubt, to get through this you will need to sharpen up your Occam's Katana.

Here is what I got out of it.  The idea that martial arts can be learned from a secret manual is an idea associated with a society that privileges the written word.  And a great deal of the martial arts fiction of the last 400 years has had this idea built into it.  Therefore, wait for it..., martial arts fiction was written by the literati-- the elite gentry class.  This might not seem like much of a revelation, like duh right?  Like who else would have written it?  But there is so much ideology piled up around martial arts that it actually took Occam's Razor to cut us back to the obvious truth.  

But the implication of this last paragraph knocked my socks off.  If martial arts manuals were a common element of fiction, they were of course also a common element of theater, opera and popular culture.  We also know that secret manuals that confer immortality and various magical powers or curses are a mainstay of religious literature (also written by the literati).  

The reason this is so important is that it solves a minor problem I've been dueling with.  There are a handful of martial arts manuals produced in China between 1500 and 1900.  Some of them have enlightenment or talismanic content, but they all seem to point to a pure martial arts, a subject fully formed and distinct from theater, opera or religion.  As regular readers know, my working thesis is that martial arts was inseparable from theater and religion historically.  When the history of martial arts is laid out alongside religion and theater, Occam's Razor tells us they were all interrelated and physically integrated.  But how do I deal with this very small number of seemingly pure martial arts manuals?  

The answer is so simple I had been missing it.  These manuals were produced  to feed a kind of playful fantasy that the heroic martial arts of the theater existed in real life.  If the famous General Yue Fei, as portrayed in an opera, learned his martial awesomeness from a secret manual, then wouldn't a literati studying martial arts from a live-in actor (who was also his his lover-servant) want to produce a secret manual too? In fact, wouldn't that be a better way to explain how he learned the martial arts?  A literati probably wouldn't want to admit directly that he studied martial arts with an low caste actor, but if he learned it from a manual, that would be cool.  

In that sense, the very idea of a martial art that can be learned from a manual comes from the theater.  The idea that martial arts could be learned from a book has a post modern ring to it, it is actually a form of the theatre of the absurd.

As an aside, a large number of martial arts styles are said to have been learned via watching an animal, a monkey, a crane a rooster, etc...  Wouldn't that be a great way for a literati to avoid admitting they studied with an Opera trained Animal Role specialist?  

And both explanation fit perfectly with the so called "penny books," which were mini-martial arts books that appeared on commercial presses in the mid-1800's.  If you were an actor who wanted to become a martial arts teacher having a secret manual to share or sell would have been a perfect narrative to explain the origins of your training, or rather, to cover them up.  

This also explains why laymen encyclopedias of the 1500's have references to learning martial arts, the idea of having martial arts skill transmitted through a god, a stranger, or a family member was already well developed in the theater.  If you could watch it on the stage, why couldn't you hire a private tutor?


Silence in Golden, Duct Tape is Silver

This post is entirely free of romanticism.  It points to a new super charged modernity of pure martial arts.  

Three days have passed...


I recently got to visit a secret society of violence experimentation.  I'm 5'11'' and 160lbs.  The guys I was playing with have a ton of experience with actual violence and averaged 6'3'' and 230lbs.  Each was different and has a unique story but the results on my end were:  6 choke outs.  20 throat pokes.  Head butt to the nose and the eye socket.  Nose and jaw rubbed into the ground.  A knee bouncing up and down on my solar plexus.  Random pain compliance.  Balls kneed and squeezed.  Floor impact.  Chest compressed to the point of no inhale do to excessive weight.  A mildly dislocated shoulder.  And 3 accidental chiropractic adjustments.  

I mention all this because none of it is actual damage, but my mind read it as damage at the time.  Well, I had a bit of vertigo this morning and my nose has some free floating bits of cartilage, and maybe my shoulder isn't quite where it should be, but over all I feel great.

Several of the most experienced guys I was playing with claimed they had no hormonal response.  They say fighting with another person is like fighting with a teddy bear, they don't see another person there so they are not triggered emotionally or socially.  That's pretty amazing.  They, in some sense, are able to shed their identity so that fighting is just what normal feels like.

Over all the feed back I got was very positive.  My skills and training are great.  The problem is that when I'm taking what I perceive to be damage I become more of a monkey, that is, I start reacting instead of fighting the way I'm trained to do.  Getting poked in the throat in this case was not doing real damage but it freaked me out.  Taking five or six body shots in a row, in this case, wasn't damage but believing it was made me fight poorly.  

But what is most interesting to me is tracking how I feel.

First off there was the enjoyment of my failures and feelings of appreciation for the folks helping me with that.  The first session went until 2 AM so there was some exhilaration, and a kind of body looseness that happens when I'm passed tired.  That seems like 3 or 4 hormone combinations right there.  But I'm pretty sure that my social challenge autopilot-- I need to be tougher than you-- hormones didn't flood my system.  That's a very important detail.

From 8 in the morning we went until about 1 pm.  Some nausea, lots of need to drink fluids.  Perhaps that had something to do with the whiskey the night before.  More simple feelings of fun and enjoyment.  Then that evening I was just feeling elated.  Tired but extra friendly.  I was in pain  all over, one arm was barely functional and my face felt bruised, but the pain was mixed with some hormone that made me feel really good.  Perhaps I felt socially bigger then normal, unflappable.

All the next day I was happy about being in pain.  Every time I felt pain, it was accompanied by joy.  And then I had a new effect.  My body wanted resistance.  Not push ups or squeezing or jumping around, or powering through.  My body wanted dynamic resistance all over.  It was perhaps like being a kid and wanting to be tickled, very dynamic and unpredictable.  And a bit like wanting to wrestle, but different from wanting to physically dominate.  This deep physical desire was my body wanting to relax against dynamic and chaotic oppositional forces.  

That last one was a very cool feeling.  Unfortunately I only had my wife around to play with, but she indulged me for a few minutes and that made me very happy.  I believe that whatever that hormone combination was, it is probably key to the highest levels of martial arts training.  It's as if once I got there my body already knew how to make up games that would condition me for optimum battle skills.  I should add here that this hormone inspired feeling is related to what I have elsewhere described as a separation of the inner and outer body, distilling jing and qi in motion.  The version I practice without the hormone inspiration feels like the mass of muscle and bone is a dull container driven by an inner body that can not be easily caught because it is moving around inside, like a separate body.

The next day (two days after) I had mostly come down from the high but I felt heroic and larger than normal.  My body had mostly healed but the pain I still had bothered me more, it had migrated.  My limbs and my face felt better but my chest felt stiff and compressed.  Not a big deal from a healing point of view because bruises on the torso get great blood circulation.  I did a lot of chest loosening exercises and felt fine.  But later in the day I had a very strong sensation around my chest and heart.  A new hormone.  I felt hollow.  Longing.  Like I'd been emotionally crushed, but just as a sensation.  I wanted to be held and gently caressed, it felt childish.  Vulnerable.  Like I wanted to be inside and then inside again.  

Three days later all the effects are gone.



Many if not all of these hormones have been isolated and probably can be injected into the blood.  I think taking hormones could be a really smart way to train but just look at how many changes I went through, it would require very complex monitoring.  

Understanding how to trigger (or not trigger) the hormones and then not over doing it is probably a better route.  We should consider monitoring these hormones in students too.  Right now there is potentially inexpensive technology that can tell you all the hormone concentrations in your blood in about an hour.  We just have to create the market for it.  

There are so many implications for education and learning in general here.  Imagine a school where subjects are taught only when the student's hormone profile is at its optimum for that subject?  If, for instance, your hormones are primed for mathematical thinking, you would likely invent the games that would teach you everything you need to know as long as you had the inputs/problems/proofs/tools available.  Imagine a speed reading class that focussed on getting you to the right hormone balance before trying to teach you anything.  My guess is the very best teachers all do this intuitively already.

The opposite, having exactly the wrong hormone profile for a particular type of learning would be a pure disaster.

Nothing here is new.  All the feelings I've described are part of NORMAL.  But conscious discussions of how to optimize these feelings for specific results needs a lot more attention and naming.

I suspect that traditional ritual behavior and ritual design is deeply tied up with conditioning people via hormone responses.  Some rituals require a big crowd because that triggers certain hormones.  A wedding for instance, is meant to permanently seal a social bond in the mind of everyone present.  An execution follows a similar logic.  There are countless other examples.  Secrets and secret rituals must be a different combination of hormones.  I don't want to simplify this to the point of triviality, but enlightenment may just be a relationship to hormones.  That doesn't mean we all have access to it or even care to.  This is just a line of thinking.  

Again, this is nothing new, A Brave New World, and A Clockwork Orange were built around this theme.  Two early scifi's that crossed the blood-brain barrier into literature, from low brow to high brow. Which brings us to the title of this post.

Silence is golden,

Duct tape is silver

     (an original poem) by Sgt. Rory Miller

Tactile Body Maps

Body maps are one of the primary ways the mind organizes sensory data for the purpose of movement.  Thinking about perception in terms of body maps is a very powerful intellectual tool.  Body maps are also a very powerful tool for kinesthetic learning.  

As far as I know, the theory of body maps emerged to explain strange perceptual-action phenomena among people who suffered strokes and other injuries to the brain.  For example there were people who could only hold themselves up in a lit room, if you turned off the lights they would fall down.  The tension that held their sense of body together was somehow channeled through or embedded in their visual perception.   A person can lose the ability to orient and make movement judgements about the space with in their immediate reach, yet maintain that ability for distances of over 15 feet.  They call lose movement or orientation components of perception for all, half, or a just a single part of their body.  They can lose the ability to use a coffee cup without losing the knowledge of what it is, what’s for, or any other general movement skills.  The theory of body maps goes a long way toward explaining the imagination too.  It turns out that when we imagine shooting a basket ball all the functions of our brain active when we shoot a basket ball are operative, with the addition of the frontal cortex which acts to suppress that movement.  Thus going some way toward explaining people with impulse control problems on the one hand and self-repression on the other.  Child developmental problems have contributed to this theory as well.  There are children who can crawl perfectly on a single floor pattern or texture but when the pattern changes, say from stripes to checks, they can not cross the line on their own. They just get stuck.

A wide range of body maps for specific aspects of smell, hearing, seeing and touch can be lost, but in a normally functioning person all of these maps are overlapping and interacting.  Yet, there are discernible elements of distinct body maps.  When you try to drive and park a car you have never driven before, it becomes obvious that your body is mapping what the functional movement and spatial boundaries of the car are.  

I imagine that in utero two of our first perceptions are fluid balancing and tactile texture differentiation.  I also imagine that these two develop as some sort of base for many body maps which, later on, become essential to moving and seeing.  This is weird stuff.  It seems likely that these perceptions happen long before any differentiation of a social self, even in the spatial sense.  I’m positing here that qi is tactile, it can be understood as a tactile body map, it has a texture which can be differentiated from the texture of air.

So with these explanatory tools I believe we can explain how high level tai chi works.  Tai chi functions by bringing to the forefront of consciousness both tactile body maps and liquid rebalancing body maps.  Because both of these develop before the self, they are completely asocial.  Thus they are a door to certain types of enlightenment where the illusions of social constraint and context turn to dust.  Babies put everything in their mouth because lips and tongue are even better amplifiers of texture than finger tips are.  When you see the world as texture, as tactile feeling, it becomes something to devour, echoing some creation myths .  But I’m not just talking about lips and finger tips, our entire body has the ability to feel out into space.  In fact the experience of feeling out into space does not need to include feeling ones own body.  When this tactile body map is totally active the sense of ones body loses its boundaries and enters the realm of liquid spatial perception.  From there the perception action sequence is marked by feeling the exchange of fluid (yin and yang), the dynamic movement of fluid around the inside of a container.  The container is bounded and altered by the size of our active tactile body maps, not our actual body.

When the opponent is fully incorporated into these body maps, there is no social experience of “me” attacking “him,” just an exchange of yin and yang. Thus, I described it in the previous post as “asocial action without an agenda.”

How does this relate to theater or forms?


Experience and theory talk to each other.  New experience (hopefully) causes theory to be either re-worked or thrown out and replaced by new theory, which prompts experiments which in turn lead to new experiences.  

However, language is not very good at communicating experience.  There are may places where language can fail us.  I have the sense that my body-mind-experience has real limits, but where they are is often unknown. Those limits are sometimes presumed based on what I can remember, or think I can remember, of my own experience, they may even be based on what I've heard about my potential.  So I have limits but I don't know what they are.

Language can be burdensome.  

So there is experience (mixed with uncertainty), and there is a portion of that experience which can be felt as a kind of knowing.  And that knowing can be translated into language as some sort of metaphor, often metaphors on top of metaphors.  Some of those metaphors are unconscious.  Some are just useful because they point to some pivotal aspect of experience, but may otherwise be misleading. And these metaphors are put together into theories we then use to formulate experiments to test and replicate our experiences, and to share with others.  

If we could simply and effectively demonstrate and describe the experiments for replicating an experience we could, theoretically, by pass the need for theory.  But experience is uncertain, metaphors are imperfect, and experiments have artificial boundaries, so nature has stuck us with a never ending conversation between theory and practice.

So always approach theory with doubt.  There probably is another way to solve the problem, whatever it happens to be, no matter how insistant your teacher is about a particular method or your lineage is about a particular way of stating things.

Which seems like a good enough intro to this video which attempts to answer the question, why do we have a brain?  There is a funny joke about 2 minutes in.   

Teaching Without Teaching

I just won an award for this post!  I submitted it to a blogging carnival, where you can read other great offerings on the topic of Bullying!


Martial Arts Perth

I have been doing much thinking about teaching and the nature of teaching and the purpose of teaching.  My ideas are incomplete but I thought I'd do some sharing anyhow.  I got the great pleasure of hanging out with Rory Miller the other day.  We took a long walk.  It is rare (for me) to be in the presence of someone I can talk about anything with.  So unusual.  It made me reflect; am I like that? Most of the time people are exerting a enormous amount of effort to hide their true nature.  We also spend tons of energy pretending to ourselves that we don't see what is happening socially.  What a relief to meet someone who is truly unpretentious.

I got Rory to read Impro by Keith Johnstone, and now he is running around telling people that Martial Arts is to Fighting, as Acting is to Improvising. A significant part of Johnstone's book is about teaching, and we talked a lot about it.  How much of teaching is just failure of the teacher to deeply understand the subject?  How much of teaching is un-conditioning negative behavior learned from loving parents who care so much they can not see what they have done?  How easy it is to be unaware of what behaviors we are reinforcing and what behaviors we are suppressing.  When I woke up the next day after talking to Rory it occurred to me that I may love teaching because I lack confidence.  I may even intentionally put myself in difficult teaching situations because I get a physiological thrill from the see-saw effect of the fear that I will fail miserably followed immediately by elation when things go well.  How would my teaching change if I actually felt confident? or indifferent?


Anti-bullying is one of the latest fads in education, and it is being used by a lot of martial arts teachers to market their programs.  When I think of bullying I think of my experience with Johnstone.  Bullying is a social game.  It can be taught as a game.  The idea that --a person being bullied is not in control-- is an illusion.  Talking about this is stupid.  You can either play a bullying game and experience it for yourself or you can talk about it for the rest of your life.  Such games can raise fascinating questions about whether or not we are in conscious control of our actions.  I had a kid claim he absolutely could not stand still, and that I could ask his mother about this for verification.  At that moment I was really wishing that a tiger would wander into the dojo and test his thesis for him.

As Rory pointed out, one of the consequences of "zero tolerance for violence" in schools is that now there are bullies who are physically smaller than the people they are bullying.  I had verification of this from some students who came to me a few months ago asking about how they could deal with this kid who constantly hits them, usually on the head.  He is smaller than all of them and they were claiming powerlessness.  Joss Whedon made a film about "zero tolerance" policies.  It's called Serenity.  In the film, as in real life, such policies have horrifying unintended consequences.  No doubt we are training a generation of super-bullies.  I responded to my students by having them play insult and complement games.  It's pretty simple, you face off and insult your partner (keep it personal, keep about him), he thanks you and insults you back, you thank him and then you complement him, then he complements you back, then back to insults, over and over.  The faster the better.  At first most students will make weak offers like "your shirt is messy,"  and they will forget to thank their partner.  As they get better at it, the insults are more and more real like, "your bald spot is a crusty white puke." Then we add self-complements and self-insults.

This leads to my 'Rules for Bullies' number one, which is also my rule of self-defense number one:  accept all offers.  If someone hits you with a baseball bat, keep playing the scene.  Never pretend it didn't happen.  If you get killed come back as a ghost and haunt that #%$@# right away!  Keep the action moving.  If you are trying to bully someone stay focuses on it being their fault!   That annoying twerp (with "zero tolerance" it could be--a handsome jock) is just taking up space, time and air that rightfully belongs to you!  You are the bully, exercise your birth right!  Make them pay! If you are being bullied, for God's sake man, accept all offers! Confess to all accusations immediately and admit to all wrong doing, it's even OK to make up bad things you did and confess to them as well.  But to play this game you must understand that the space belongs to the bully and you are only there to have fun at their expense.  There are two ways to play, if the bully gets closer take up more space, get languid, put your feet up on the cafeteria table, better yet, lay back on the table with your legs spread if necessary reach out in all direction, yawn, drool, as they move away, get smaller. You will control them like an insect with a chip in it's head. The game also works just as well if you shrink and whimper as they get closer and you get bigger as they move away.

Our perception of space is plastic.  It is only when we think it is fixed that we get into problems.  Bullies are not predators.  They are purely social animals.  Social animals are constantly trying to maintain and manage their identities, belongings, and status.  Non-attachment to those things is social freedom.  Knowing this intellectually means nothing.  Knowing it kinesthetically is total social freedom.  But knowledge of this sort is also expertise in trance.  The ability to go in and out of a trance is a skill.  But it is also a risk.  The traditional Chinese way to think about this is that there are ghosts and demons lurking about all the time, attracted by passion, and fear, and when you go into a trance they start eating your kidneys.  Go there too passionately or for too long and you will get stuck in the trance, you may even acquire a ghost body that stays with you...because you are it's food supply.

This is the essence of what I teach:  How you live in your body is determined by the rituals you use to inhabit animated space.

Rory had an interesting rule of thumb; it is to the extent that you really care about something that you are likely to make poor decisions about it. That's because our sense of caring is the limbic system of our brain, not the rational part.  There are strategies one can use to get around this, like actually taking other people's advice, or externalizing the decision by giving it to another person or using an astrological calculation.  The Sunzi has a good story about this:  One general sent the opposing general a jar of wine that actually contained his piss.  Having tasted the piss, the general got so angry that the next day he made a bad decision on the battle field which exposed his vulnerabilities and that was his final battle.

What is the lesson? if you get a jar of piss sent to you--keep playing the scene!  Drink a few glasses and wonder why you aren't getting drunk.  Or send a return jar filled with peach schnapps!

Rory talked about his teaching as giving people permission to act on what they already know to be true from their own experience.  A potent idea.  I believe I'm doing that in the kinesthetic realm too, but I wonder sometimes how deep or far away that experience might be.  For example, can people go straight to remembering how they moved before the first time they got frustrated trying to put two tiny Legos together?  Can they remember all that wasted effort?  Can they return to that effortlessness without the shame of clumsiness or the shame of being too damn cute?

There are two basic ways to deal with bullies.  Make it too much trouble for the bully to bother with you, or get a group of friends together and beat the bully up.  It sounds simple, but these are important and newanced social skills.  However, and this is a big however, a lot of what passes for education is actually bullying.  To teach these skills to kids means that they will have a choice. Have no doubt, kids able to make choices for themselves will bring down the education system as we know it.

Is Humanity Blind?

Is humanity blind?  In asking the question I'm not referring to the limitations of our eyes, I'm speaking metaphorically.  But since I brought up the limitations of the eyes, here is a quick review.  1) Peripheral vision mis-perceives distance, I first discovered this while doing outside crescent kicks in a row with a person on either side and my eyes cast straight ahead.  If I don't make students look to the sides before kicking, chaos ensues.  2)  Motion and color are learned functions of the imagination.  This is so hard to conceptualize because we learn to see color and motion so early, but when children are born blind and gain sight through a surgical opperation after the age of 3, they don't see color and they don't see motion.  In place of color they see complex patterns of reflected light.  In place of motion they see something akin to stop-motion- objects get larger and closer but aren't 'seen moving.'  Weird huh?  3)  Tunnel vision is in focus, everything else that we think we see in focus is imagined.  You can test this by staring at one word in the middle of the page and attempting to read with your peripheral vision.  4) I'm betting readers can contribute many other examples of human sight inadequacy.

A reason for all the spinning and head turning in Baguazhang is to train the eyes to see without focusing.  Welcoming the blur, as it were.  Thus reducing the effort and time normally wasted convincing ourselves that we are not blind.

And on that note I have a few items from the News for my dear readers.

First off, Why Placebos Work Wonders from the Wall Street Journal.  Before you get your hopes up, the article does not convincingly answer the question and it says noting about Nocebos.  Depending on where you happen to be standing in the 'what is medicine' debate you may be shocked to learn that sham acupuncture out performed real acupuncture in one of those double blind thingamajiggies.  Just hearing about it is enough to give me a hot flash!  Also, a study suggests that the more indulgent we think we are, the less we will eat.  If I were juggling just now I would have drop my balls.  After reading this article you may drift beyond the  question of whether humanity is blind, and might find yourself wondering whether we exist at all.

And off to a good start, why not ask; is humanity deaf? Can anyone actually hear the difference between a modern violin and a Stradivarius?  I got a good laugh when the maestro compared the double blinded musicians to people trying to distinguish a Ford from a Ferrari in a Walmart parking lot.  Umm dude, them Walmart parking lots is pretty big, and I think I could tell a Ferrari from a Ford upside down in a ditch, with earplugs, a blindfold, a shot of whisky, and in my pajamas. (Perhaps the NIH will fund the study?  If not then surely the NEA.)

Meanwhile, Tai Chi folk have known for some time that our stomach is a brain.  This science-blog is choca-block with links pointing to the notion that Your Gut Has a Mind of It's Own.  I should be heartened by this news since it suggests a host of new angles with which to approach the idea that Tai Chi is medicine.  I guess my serotonin levels are flagging.  Perhaps I should be doing Tai Chi before dinner?  As an aside, it occurs to me that the movement of (from?) one person's dantian could sync up with the movement of another person's dantian to create mood and other outlook changes.   There are many studies looking at how we coordinate movement and breathing (sic) unconsciously, it's not so far fetched.

Perhaps you still believe that despite the fact that we are blind, deaf, and emotional robots, we still might have that old saw free will?  Turns out what we have is free won't.  Here is another study showing that violent crime is linked to brain injury.  It's a bit off topic but this summary of the debate about the drop in violent crime is a good starting place to throwing up your hands and declaring with fervent lusty abandon, "I just don't know!"

Torture and the Martial Arts

There is some percentage of people, perhaps it is one in a hundred, who in the midst of being tortured suddenly realize that it is only their body which is being tortured and not their mind.  We have a mythology about this in our culture.  The first time I heard about it I was a kid.  One of my neighbors was from Nebraska and he had moved to San Francisco when his father died.  His father had been an archaeologist and told him that there were many accounts of Indians being tortured or burned at the stake in the 1800’s who would just laugh at their torturers.  I’ve since heard many such stories, people who just stopped being effected by torture and in the midst of it noticed that their true nature was freedom.

It’s as if their body was already dead and they had no attachment to it.  The name for this quality in Chinese is XuWang Xiangzai said, Xu Kong Ling Tong:  Body as if dead (Xu),  emptiness inside (Kong), lively elasticity of the spacial mind outside (Ling), and body functioning as a single liquid mass (Tong).  So simply having Xu would not be enough, but it would be a heck of a head start.

It’s my theory that some of the founders of great martial arts systems were tortured or had torturous experiences which showed them that they could separate their spacial mind from their physical body in such a way that pain had no effect.  And by no effect I mean that they didn’t feel the need to contract, recoil, or tense up in response to it.

And that brings us to Systema.  I haven’t written about systema, or seen much in person or played around with anyone who swore by it, and I keep forgetting to order the book.  But it has a lot of devotees and you can watch hours of Systema videos on Youtube.

The founders of Systema were members of the Russian special forces.  From first hand accounts I’ve heard, hazing is a constant in the Russian military.  So it wouldn't be too surprising to learn that the founders of Systema were tortured at some point.  The Russian Orthodox Church kind of has a history of that too.  It is my suspicion that they were among those rare individuals who happen to find torture liberating, in the sense that it freed them from fear of body inflicted pain.

Systema training has a lot of different types of hitting and beating, with small sticks, with big sticks, various objects and with hands of course.  They have a whole thing about how you have to release the fear with the breath.

We could posit that there is a martial arts history of torturing people to perfection.