Daoyin Reimagined: A Comparison of Three Embodied Traditions

Daoyin Reimagined: A Comparison of Three Embodied Traditions

I am happy to announce the publication of the Journal of Daoist Studies volume 9 (2016), available at Three Pines Press.  It is $25 for the paper book and $15 for the digital book.  

Oh, and my article Daoyin Reimagined: A Comparison of Three Embodied Traditions, co-written with Daniel Mroz, is in it!

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San Francisco Trip

Teaching Circus Daoyin

We did three hours of intense animal Daoyin.  It was good.  People got so tired they naturally returned to stillness.  Which is the point ofDaoyin, to discover and feel the spontaneous pull between movement and stillness.  In that pull our form becomes pliable because it is freed from our story.  And our story is freed from the limitation of our form.  The movement is designed to push both sorts of boundaries.  This type of class is a very positive experience for most people.  It fully integrates strength, flexibility, body re-orientation, and locomotion.

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Snake Daoyin

This is Daoyin from Vietnam.  Elsewhere I have explained that the Daoyin Paulie Zink does has about twenty animals, it was a Daoist religious theatrical martial training system for animal role specialists.  Paulie Zink was explicitly being taught monkey kungfu (or Tai Sheng, which means Great Sage which is another name for the Monkey King).  All the animals were at times framed as being supportive training for learning the difficult parts of the various monkey roles (there are five of them).  Another way to understand it is that monkey is just the most developed role of the twenty animal roles.  That's how he explained it to me one afternoon, but I don't have that in writing or anything.

That is why I was delighted to find this video on Youtube.  It is almost certainly the same system, the snake movements are the same, but this woman has the full blown snake role.  I would love to know if she has little bits of all the other animals or if she just learned this one?  In any event, if this type of Animal Role Specialist Daoyin is old, like 500 years old, I'm betting there were at one time experts for every single animal.  Are there any other high quality masters of animal daoyin out there?  Experts in an animal other than snake or monkey?  I know there are dog kungfu experts but that appears to be a lesser amateur style.  Are there any pig masters for instance? How about crab masters?  Or frog masters?  Send me the links if you find them!  Please.  Also I'm taking a break from Facebook so if you comment there, please comment here too.  Thanks.

Are Martial Arts Taoist?

One of the reasons I started this blog was to answer the question, how can a martial art be Taoist?  Over the six years I’ve been writing I’ve attempted to answer that question. The question actually comes in many different forms.  For instance: Are some martial arts part of Taoism?  How did martial arts influence Taoism? Is there a reason why a Taoist can not practice martial arts?  Are there specific Taoist practices which are embedded in the martial arts?

In this post I will attempt to offer a grand summary of the issue.

First off, let us look at Daoism* on a 3D grid.  John Lagerwey went to Taiwan in the early 1970’s where he became a Daoist priest and wrote a book called, Taoist Ritual in Chinese Society and History, in it he describes Daoist Orthodoxy as a continuity of “view” passing back in time for 2000 years and permeating music, movement, mythology, individual conduct, life, death and social institutions.  At the same time, Michael Saso, and Kristofer Schipper  did the same thing.  They each went to different communities in Taiwan and became Daoist priests and they each wrote books making the same point about Orthodoxy and continuity.  Except the content of those books is actually quite different.  The expression of that “view” in each community was profoundly unique.  In one community the main job of Daoist priests is to perform funerals, and in another community Daoist priests performed many different rituals but were forbidden to perform funerals.  Was Orthodoxy an illusion?

John Lagerwey went on to publish in Chinese, a thirty volume encyclopedic record of the incredible variety of Orthodox Daoist traditions concentrated exclusively among the Hakka ethnic group in Northern Taiwan.  In his most recent book in English, China: A Religious State, “Daoism” is conspicuously left out of the title.  That is because it puts Daoism in a historic context where it played many different roles over a long period of time within a much larger culture of state ritual.  And then in the second half of the book he looks at the role of Daoism in local ritual culture as an ethnologist and finds enormous diversity of expression.  This diversity had elements of continuity like the use of talisman or the Daodejing, but single defining signifiers are almost meaningless because talisman and the Daodejing are not exclusive to Daoism.

So that is the first axis of our 3D grid, call it infinite orthodox diversity.  

Many books and articles on Daoism start out by explaining that the English term “Daoism” doesn’t actually exist in Chinese, that there are three or more terms which are conflated:  Daoshi (official of the Dao), Daojiao (religion of the dao), and Daoren (a person of the Dao).  But these terms are themselves quite mushy.  Daoshi most often means “priest” but it can mean “monk” or “hermit” and in some regions it is more likely to be understood as “traveling magician.”  Daojiao, is mainly used to distinguish other religions like Buddhism, state ritual, or Islam--it seems to have developed as a default category rather than a self-identifier.

Daoren has come to mean a person who tries to live a life consistent with the teachings of Laozi and Zhuangzi, which, because of those book’s centrality in Chinese culture have remained readable and in print for 2300 years.  But Daoren can be used more generally to mean an artist or artisan whose work is modeled on the natural world.  Or even someone who appears to accomplish tasks in an effortless way.  

So that is the next axis of our 3D grid, the infinite influence of the Laozi and Zhuangzi spreading out into every aspect of “normal” peoples lives.  We’ll call it the Daoren axis.

The third axis of our grid is equally difficult to pin down, it concerns the identity of the practitioner.  Because of things like political intrigue and ethnic conflict, at various points in history, people practicing Daoism suddenly decided to start calling what they do Buddhism.  And likewise various sorts of shaman, trance-mediums or Buddhists decided to call themselves Daoists.  

The same goes for magicians, hermits, poets, artists, performers, and urban eccentrics, sometimes they decided to call themselves Daoist when they really weren’t, and other times they decided to hide the fact that they were Daoist by calling themselves something else.  So this category is all the different ways one can be a Daoist, including the better known categories of priests, hermits, and monastics, but also including poets (the most famous poet in Chinese history Li Po, was a Daoist initiate), performers and the super unique like urban-hermit-insect-eating-exorcists.    

As you can see, Daoist 3D space is a little bent.  With one end of the Daoren axis meeting up with the identity of practitioner axis.  And just to show how outside the box one needs to be to even have this discussion, our 3D grid actually has a 4th axis!  A fourth dimension we will call the Methods axis.

At one time I would have simply defined methods as either orthodox or unorthodox, with the orthodox methods being zouwang (sitting and forgetting), jindan (the elixir practice), ritual/liturgy, dream practice, and daoyin (exploring the outer limits of movement and stillness); with the unorthodox encompassing all other methods. But now I’m more likely to avoid the orthodox category and think in terms of the transmission or discovery of daoist “view.”  I want to avoid sounding cryptic so let me offer some examples.  Someone who practices Buddhist meditation can discover the kinesthetic experience of stillness being infinitely and constantly available everywhere.  A person practicing the zouwang method of sitting could just as likely not have that experience.  The transmission of the experience from teacher to student also does not guarantee that the student has the experience.  Even the experience itself does not guarantee that it will be valued or cultivated in different contexts.  

So this 4th axis is made up of any method which attempts to transmit or accidentally transmits daoist “view.”  This axis is also infinite and simply bends down as the ‘view’ within the method becomes more defuse.  Take for example this website explaining daoist talisman.  Go ahead and read about the talisman which attracts beautiful women to you.  It transmits Daoist “view” in a sneaky way.  While most young men want to have the power to attract women to them, this talisman works in the opposite way, it gives the power to the women to see you as attractive.  All you have to do is wear the talisman and wait.  It doesn’t require any male assertive action.  You don’t even have to believe in it!  If you see a beautiful woman you can just stop and see if it works.  No crude one liners, no posturing, you don’t need to offer to buy her a drink, nothing.  Just wait and see what happens!  This talisman tricks guys into not doing!  Also known as wuwei or non-aggression, the most central of all daoist precepts.  


Alright, now that we have a 3D grid for Daoism, let's make a grid for martial arts. On the first axis we have all the possible reasons and ways someone might optimize training the skill of fighting.  This axis includes dueling, banditry, militia, assistants of the courts (police, bailiff, guard etc..), body guard, crop guarding, home defense, child self-defense, rebellion, military weapons, drilling with gong and drum, competitions, merchant escort services, etc... 

The second axis of the martial arts grid is all the ways we can optimize training for performance, display and ritual.  Think everything from staged fights, to martial opera, to exorcism, to games, to militia displays, to self-mortification performances, to shows put on for the gods, to trance possession by fighting gods.

The third axis of the martial arts grid is self-cultivation.  This includes all types of personal ritual, the most common being health, fitness and prowess.  But it also includes practices for the purpose of instilling virtue, naturalness, kindness, or any of the darker types of attributes like cruelty, invincibility, or to see the future.  This particular axis can easily be applied directly to daoism because it can incorporate daoists methods or daoist precepts.  For example here are the Xiang’er Daoist precepts from the 200 CE:

Lack falseness or pretense (be honest)

Cultivate weakness and flexibility

Practice being like the feminine

Do not seek fame

Participate in meritorious actions

Cultivate clarity and stillness

Cultivate emptiness and desirelessness

Practice stopping when a thing is complete

Discover wuwei, yield to others

Any activity, including martial arts, can be practiced to express or nurture one or all of these precepts.  Would that make a martial art daoist?  Hold on, you don’t need to answer that question, we’ll get to it in a minute.  But consider here that if following these precepts were the only measure of whether or not a martial artist is Daoist, then not many martial artist would fit the bill.  


So now we have a 4 dimensional grid encompassing Daoism, and a 3 dimensional grid encompassing martial arts.  All we have to do is put them together and see what lights up!  Wherever there is an overlap we have a magical confluence of Daoism and Martial Arts!  

We can also look at the spots that don’t light up, like Daoist priests that have specifically taken a precept to never practice martial arts.  Or women who read the Daodejing and like to knit.  Or hermits who never leave their cave. Oh, but we have a problem there.  See there are hermit practices of internal ritual alchemy that involve kinesthetically visualizing demon troops doing battle, or martial deities dancing with a sword.  

See the academic question we posed, “Is a given martial art Daoist?” is tied up in answering questions of authenticity and authority.  So take note if you are academically inclined, I have just answered all the questions about authenticity and authority for the general case of the question.  It is one gigantic infinite multi-dimensional light show.  Now the question remains, how do we deal with authenticity and authority in any individual or particular case?


My own experience is that the apophatic kinesthetic revelations of practicing daoyin are totally integrated into my martial arts practice, both internal (Tai Chi, xinyi, bagua) and external (Northern Shaolin, Lanshou).  Then again, integration is the name of the game.  Jindan, the differentiation of jing, qi and shen in stillness is practiced inside of zouwang, sitting and forgetting, and daoyin.  The words of the Daodejing are the source of Daoist precepts, years of chanting them has embedded them in my movement and my dreams.  It is as if the sacred texts of Daoism are written on my bones.  

The ritual practice of visualizing a deity and his attributes before me, and then floating him up and around and then inside of me, and then moving him to a specific location in my body and then inviting him into action while leaving emptiness behind--this practice is to me the same as practicing taijiquan or baguazhang or xinyiquan.  The visualization part of the method itself is not essential, but the changes in perception are how the internal martial arts function.  There is an order of action.  A procession of jing, qi and shen.  

Even the external arts, when practiced as empty forms, are identical to the effortless intrinsic tonifying structural flow of daoyin.

This is true whether the art is "identified" as a Muslim art, like Liuhe Xinyiquan, or a Buddhist art, like Shaolin Quan

Another way one could ask the question is, can martial arts have daoist fruition?  Does practice result in spontaneity (ziran)? effortlessness? healing? a return to baby-like simplicity? potency? awareness? 

Lastly, as a teacher looking at what I teach, if I am encouraging students to hold a specific type of intent or intention then I am teaching trance, not wuwei.  Likewise, if I am teaching students to assert themselves or improve themselves, then I am teaching pretense; not things as they actually are, not the discovery of constant virtue (daode). 


*Note: I inelegantly use Taoism in the title and in the first paragraph to be searchable on Google and then I use Daoism in the rest of the article to be consistent with contemporary scholarly standards.  

Xu - Fake - False

The term xu is a key concept which ties together daoyin, the ritual body, trance, and all types of martial arts.  The first definition my dictionary gives of xu is “empty” or “hollow” but this is misleading as the term kong is generally used to describe emptiness in martial arts, meditation or ritual.

The second definition in my dictionary is more helpful, “fake;” interestingly, the fourth definition is “virtual.”

The radical for the character xu, is hu (tiger).  When a tiger stalks, he forgets his body, he thinks only of the prey.  Xu is the character used by Chinese Medicine in the expression shenxu (kidney depletion). When we go without food or sleep our bodies often become deficient and depleted, we lose fine motor control, the ability to focus, and concern for the flesh.

In the context of internal martial arts, xu is the fruition of the whole body moving as a single liquid unit.  Xu is a description of the physicality of an “I can sense what you are doing, you can not sense what I am doing” situation.  A body which is xu is unstoppable because it doesn’t apparently respond to resistance.

I know what you are thinking, zombies are xu. That’s right, if zombies could talk they would be like, “Yo, I don’t care if you chop off my arm, I’ll still eat you.  Shoot off my leg, no problem, I’m still coming...” I hesitate to say that xu is a form of disassociation because it is not necessarily a psychological problem.  However, the first time I bang my body or my leg against the ground teaching daoyin, people wince.  They think, “Are you crazy?”

Xu is external martial conditioning.  Xu is the result of pounding and slapping the outside of ones body as a way to be comfortable with heavy contact.

It is also what allows self-mortifiers to pierce and pummel themselves.  There is a long history in China of using a ritual trance initiation to induce xu.  Often it involves a ritual emptying, as in nuo theatrical exorcism where the hun and spirits are removed from the performer’s body and placed in jars using talisman and mantras.  But it is also a quick way of training troops.  During the Boxer Rebellion (1900) each boxer went through an initiation process which made him immune to pain and of course (he believed) bullets.

In trance the mind is totally preoccupied.  The boxers would invoke their personal deity and they would become, for instance, the Monkey King.  By preoccupying the mind with all the attributes of the Monkey King the individual boxer must have been able to disassociate from any injury to his own body.  He may also have been hungry and been entranced by the idea that he was purifying the country of evil Christians.

Other examples of training troops quickly involve group chanting.  Qawwali music from Pakistan, for instance, is all about invoking love.  It is the idea that while you are butchering your enemy you feel intense love for them, as you send them to god, you also make them one with god.  Because you are so focused on love, you disassociate from your own body.  Intense anger, revenge, and envy work too.  As Laozi says, “When we are possessed by desire, we experience only the yearned for manifest.”

Many spiritual traditions think of xu as a form of transcendence.  Putting on my rational 20th Century hat, I’d say that xu is the result of two forces; hormones (probably adrenaline, dopamine, oxytocin, epinephrine) and mental focus.

(While mentally focusing on an idea, a goal, or an object outside the body can create an experience of xu, "focus" is a really bad word choice because the more spatially expansive (capacious) ones awareness is, the more xu the body can become.)

For those who practice internal martial arts xu comes about simply through relaxation.  In fact I would tentatively say xu is relaxation. When every sand sized particle that makes up your entire body is relaxed it is xu(Xu is used in the Chinese character for atom.) A body which is xu does not intentionally respond to resistance.  It is heavy, liquid and unified.  Actually it does respond to resistance, but it does so in an unconditioned, unconscious, uncontrolled automatic way.

Everywhere I look these days people are abusing the poor word “embodied.” Everything needs to be “embodied” these days, if you want to sell it--it better be embodied with some awesomeness.  Exercise, politics, education, shampoo, coffee, even the truth is supposed to be embodied.  But I’m telling you people, if you take this ride to the top of the hill, it ends with a totally disembodied experience.  But words are misleading, truly internal martial xu should be both embodied and disembodied at the same time.  When all the controlling, micro-structural, 'I own this body,' 'this is me,' 'this is me-ness,' voices get turned off what is left is xu.  Xu and emptiness (kong), of course.

I’m not exactly describing an ego-free experience here.  The ego just becomes bigger, it lifts off of the body and becomes spacial.  One experiences a lively, dynamic form of perceptual-motor spacial awareness.

Everyone is at least a little bit xu all the time.  And everyone is capable of getting really xu in short order.  Most of the drugs you can name off of the top of your head increase ones experience of xu.

What inhibits the experience of xu? Only one thing: Feeling in possession of your own body--believing that what defines you is limited to this empty bag of flesh.

National Living Treasures

ling-3I really don't know what to do.  Paulie Zink has another video up on Youtube.  His Daoyin is the link between Daoist hermit rituals, Shaolin, the martial theater tradition, and internal martial arts.  I don't know of anyone else that has even come close to receiving the complete transmission of this knowledge.  Paulie Zink has it, yet hardly anyone appreciates that fact, even worse, I don't think he appreciates it!  For crying out loud, why call it Yin Yoga?  You're killing me.

For those who have missed this story, here are some of the details.  Paulie Zink learned Daoyin and Monkey Kungfu in Los Angels in the late '70's early 80's from a guy, Cho Chat Ling who learned it from his father and taught no one else.  The Monkey Kungfu is made up of 5 different Monkey forms and qualities all of which Paulie then taught to his close friend Michael Matsuda.  I interviewed Michael last year in Santa Clarita and he told me that he never learned any of the Daoyin and that Monkey Kungfu and Daoyin were completely different systems.  It's my opinion that Monkey is one of about 20 Daoyin animal movements, but it happens to be by far the most developed of the animals because Monkey was such a popular stage role in every part of China.  Michael dismissed this notion by saying that it was purely a martial arts system.  He backed up this statement by telling me that a group of Paulie Zink's teacher's father's Kungfu cousin's  disciples (got that?) came to visit Los Angels from Hong Kong twice in the 1980's to compete in tournaments and Michael got to travel with them.  He said they were superb fighters, unlike Paulie Zink who never had an interest in fighting.  But Michael also said that none of the visiting group knew Daoyin, and none of them knew all 5 monkey forms either.  That means Michael is also a National Living Treasure and more people need to get down there and study with him.  I took his class-- that's some serious gongfu!  (Buy a video!) (There is more of Michael's argument here, but the idea that there was some wall of separation between fighting skill and performing skill does not stand up to historical scrutiny.)

The purpose of Daoyin is very simply to reveal the freedom of our true nature.  That's the purpose, or I could say the fruition.  One of the reasons this thing has gotten so screwed up is that people are always confusing the method with the fruition.  They think that physical looseness and flexibility is the fruition, when in fact it is only the method, and only a small part of the method at that.

The method of Daoyin is very simply to distill what is inside from what is outside so that we might become aware of this other thing, call it emptiness, call it freedom, call it original qi, call immortality, call it whatever you want.  The world outside of us is always pushing or pulling, and the world inside of us is always pushing or pulling.  The premise of Daoyin is that there is a place in between inside and outside which is always pure and always free.

Thinking back to how Daoyin was created, there were two ways in.  One way was to cultivate extraordinarily plain stillness and emptiness, and from that experience begin moving.  The other way was to tap into the spontaneity of the animal mind, to move, think and feel like a wild animal.  In order to have the complete Daoyin 'experience' you would have to go in one way and find your way out the other!  So in a sense, Daoyin can't really be taught, it has to be found.

One of the many differences between Yoga and Daoyin is that Daoyin has what we call in the martial arts world, "external conditioning."  Somewhere in the middle (1:26) you see Paulie putting his legs together and flopping them side to side, whacking them on the ground.  His torso becomes like water and his legs like someone else's legs.  Who cares?  Just throw them around.  This is one of the doorways in.

Later, when he does the pig, he is banging his knees on the ground in a rapid fire vibration.  Then near the end he does the caterpillar (changing into a butterfly) which looks totally smooth, but I've taught it to kids a lot and I always have to explain that "gongfu teachers like me are the model of toughness and dispassion!" and "I don't care if you get little purple bruises--the cure is more practice!"

In the video he starts with the frog, then the stump, the tree, then the crab, the transition to lotus sitting, then the pig (at 1:59, I've never seen that before!), then the caterpillar into the butterfly.

The music is barely survivable.  It should really be done on a hard, unforgiving surface.  The production quality is even lower than the stuff I do.  I'm pretty sure that most people will look at this video and say, it doesn't measure up to this or that standard--but that's partly because people don't know what they are looking at.

He is doing only a tiny fraction of each animal. Viewers should know that all the animals have meditation postures, and they all come totally to life, like the pig did for about one second (1:59).  The pig is particularly interesting because like the dog, it was the lowest status role there was in the Chinese theater tradition.  Think about it, to be an actor was lower status than a prostitute or a thief!  Playing the role of a dog or a pig was really low.  The animal role specialists would draw straws to see who the unlucky guy was who would have to play the pig!

Given that Paulie's teacher probably inherited a really low social status, it isn't all that surprising that he would want to abandon it himself and go into the import-export business (no one actually knows where he is now), but he obviously valued it enough to believe that it should be passed on to someone in it's complete form.  I can even understand wanting to free it from it's original Daoist/Theater context, even if I think that was short sited and highly problematic given that Paulie does not seem to understand what a treasure he is or has.

The Cat Walk

Tanka Tanka

It was raining hard the other morning so I did my practice inside and I really got into working on the cat walk.  I've got these walks down: the dog, the bunny, the monkey, the phoenix, the crab, the dragon and probably a bunch of others I'm not thinking of right now.  But the cat has been tough.  This is the Paulie Zink Daoyin I'm talking about here, and he showed me the scared cat, the cat licking, and the stretching cat but not the walking cat.  It's hard to walk like a cat!  But it's only a matter of time and deduction before I get it.  After all I have Xinyi cat-washes-his-face practice to help me.  So I was doing some experimenting and I realized that the cat prowling is different than the cat walking, and the prowl started happen for me.  Cats have a narrow ribcage and they walk with a really narrow base.

After practice I went on-line looking for videos of cats walking and I found this amazing study, "Whole Body Mechanics of Stealthy Walking in Cats," comparing the way cats and dogs walk!  Here is a summary, but check out the study link it's got so much juicy content and equations too.  Make sure you watch the videos.  (I couldn't figure out how to embed them, but I used a program I have called VLC to watch them with out any trouble.)

Here is what I got from the article.  Dogs (and by inference, humans) walk in an very efficient way. (Wolves must be even more efficient, George Xu told me to practice like a wolf running in the sky!  --One movement, three hours, not get tired!)  Prowling cats on the other hand are 100% inefficient!  They use absolutely no forward momentum.  Well, that's what happens when you practice xinyi, taijiquan or baguazhang walking with whole-body shrinking-expanding emptiness too.  The momentum happens when you pounce or strike, not in the walk.

The article poses "a tradeoff between stealthy walking and economy of locomotion."  My opinion, as far as humans go, is that we can master both if we return to the source of walking.  Walking is a trance, an extremely complex trance.  When we walk we are doing something on the order of the mental complexity required for visualizing a Tibetain Tanka in perfect detail and animating ourselves in it! This is what Daoyin, real Daoyin, is supposed to do.  It takes you all the way back to the origins of movement, where all movement inspirations come from.

Monster Motor

I've been thinking about the difference between three types of movement:

Fine motor movements like typing, making a cup of coffee, or cleaning a gun.

Gross motor movements like throwing a baseball, carrying a bag of laundry, or swimming.

Monster motor movements are a third category that I have invented.

Last Thanksgiving I watched a two and a half year old defeat a three and a half year old in a no-holds-barred wrestling match.  She did it, not by superior weight or strength, but I believe by the use of superior access to monster motor movement.  The young man she defeated, when not wrestling, was particularly concerned with improving his fine motor skills.  He spent a lot of time playing with small Lego men and would get frustrated when he ran up against the limits of his dexterity.  Hopefully we will get to see a re-match this Thanksgiving and all future Thanksgivings so that I can continue my research.

Monster motor movement begins in the womb, with whole body shrinking, expanding and spiraling.  In Chinese medical terms-- open, close, pivot, in cosmological terms, heaven, earth and center.

dog_v_catLately I have been teaching new Taijiquan students two basic daoyin animals, the cat and the dog.  They are somewhat opposite ways of moving, but in my current way of thinking they both embody monster motor movement.  They each begin from a pre-locomotor physicality and progress to two very different sorts of four legged walking.  I'm avoiding the word crawling because everyone already thinks they know what that means, and what I'm talking about is animal specific movement.    I then try to get students to use this information to animalize their Tai Chi.

More on all this later but it ties into something else I've been thinking about.

At the rock climbing gym I noticed that climbing routes with bigger hand holds are more tiring.  This is deeply counter-intuitive, particularly because the climbs which are ranked easier always have bigger hand holds.  But the fact is, climbing with my finger tips is more efficient than climbing with my whole hand.  Each joint is an additional source of leaverage.  I'm not sure exactly what is going on here but I think that engaging the finger tips for balance and locomotion improves access to monster motor movement.

Paulie Zink Workshop in Marin

Taiyuan+tw04Here is the info on a Paulie Zink workshop April 17th and 18th in Marin County, California.  This is a bit difficult to write about because he is calling it Yin-Flow Yoga instead of calling it by it's actual name Daoyin.  It's a weird problem, he wants to be able to teach his material and it nearly fits within the yoga class context, but if you read the text of the link you won't understand why this guy's stuff is so special.  And because of that participant's expectations are going to be for yoga not Daoyin.

For those of you not familiar with Paulie Zink, he is the preeminent practitioner of Monkey Kungfu, he dominated the tournaments and exhibitions in the 1980's and I've yet to see a better performer of Monkey Kungfu.  There are better acrobats out there and there are better contortionists, and there are possibly people who act a little more like monkeys than he does--but there is no one else I've seen who puts it all together the way he does.  It's too bad he never had a whole troop to perform with.  He does have a disciple now, so I'm hopeful that his lineage will get passed down.

L0038878 Qigong exercise to treat lack of essence and pulsesHe credits his ability to years of train in the Daoyin system which he learned along with the Monkey Kungfu.  This system is a combination of meditation techniques, some of them very old and shamanic like spending 4 hours balancing on only your knees and elbows staring at a flame, along with balancing, stretching, folding, rolling, exploding, pounding and scrapping.  It is made up of animal imitation.  Each animal has a whole series of meditations, postures, and forms of locomotion.  It is the forms of locomotion that really sets it apart from a yoga class, but around half of the postures are quite similar to yoga postures.  The difference is, his frog eats flies and hops, his bunny wiggles it's tail, and his downward-dog, scampers around the room and tries to lick people.

I think of Daoyin primarily at a hermit practice done in conjunction with long periods of meditation.  It is a capacity increasing tradition and is likely one of the roots of Chinese medicine.  In his lineage it seems to have merged with a circus tradition.  How did this happen?  The answer is pretty simple but not widely understood, in fact I don't think Paulie Zink agrees with me on it.  But any way here it is:

Paulie Zink Paulie Zink

The most common and widespread form of religious experience in China was public Physical Ritual Theater (often called opera in English).  There were quasi elite performing families which were part of a designated caste.  These families were hated outsiders.  It seems likely that Zink's teacher was from one of these families and taught a single outsider (an American) because he wanted to free the art from the tradition.  In the South of China, where his tradition comes from, Daoist priests performed public rituals which included theater and theatrical components.  So it's not hard to imaging that Daoists were working with performing troops and may have even apprenticed there sons and daughters to each other occasionally.

Anyway, if you've got the time, check out the workshop!

Avoid Fame, Practice Obscurity

I recently received an email from Paulie Zink's wife Maria asking me to please write a letter to the Los Angles Times complaining that a recent article on Yin Yoga made no mention of it's founder, Paulie Zink.  My sympathy goes out to everyone involved.

First of all to the LA Times.  The one thing newspapers like the LA Times used to have over TV news was something called investigative reporting.  It involved finding experts and insiders who had something to say about a particular topic.  The reporter would get in a rental car and go visit these insider/experts, see what they were up to, and put together a summary of their opinions and knowledge.  Now any expert with something to say or insider with experience to reveal has a blog.  The LA Times has lost it's reason d'etre.

The piece the LA Times published on Yin Yoga is just a puff piece for somebodies yoga teacher.  Free advertising for a friend loosely veiled in the mystique of "research."  Come on, the reporter googled Yin Yoga, talked to the first two people who picked up their cell phone.  It took all of twenty minutes to research.

My greater sympathy goes to Paulie Zink.  He is the holder of an extraordinary Daoist Lineage of Dao Yin.  Dao Yin, like all things Chinese, is very hard to put in a box.  It is first and foremost a hermit's expression of a life dedicated to the Teachings of Laozi.  The particular lineage he holds includes master level circus and martial arts training.  Did a Dao Yin hermit decide he'd had enough of the mountains and join a traveling performance troop, or did a master performer retire to the mountains?  Either way Dao Yin is way more than Yin Yoga.  I've never seen a yogi as good as Paulie Zink. Dao Yin technology is just higher.  Regular yoga is like a computer with excellent connectivity, interface, and compatibility, but not much memory.  Dao Yin is like a high speed super computer with 2000 years of memory, but little connectivity (it's best taught in a small group or one to one), an obscure interface (it requires an enormous time commitment to learn), and is useful for only two things--being in the circus or being a hermit.

Did the "founders" of Yin Yoga study with Paulie Zink?  Yes they did.  Was Zink the first person to use the term Yin Yoga?  Probably, it sounds like something he would say.  But the Yin Yoga people didn't study long enough to learn Dao Yin.  What they are teaching is just smart exercise for hip urban professionals.  It doesn't come close to the Dao Yin Paulie Zink practices. What they do works because it is simple and easy to learn.

Laozi's Teaching's, the Daodejing, has chapter after chapter describing the fruition of a Daoist life as "obscurity."  This is not some mysterious power that will allow you to win friends and influence people, it's real obscurity.  In fact, the fifth Xiang'er Precept is:  Avoid Fame, Practice Obscurity.  (See this article for more on Xiang'er and the Daodejing.)

A few years back, Zink moved from Hollywood to the hermit lands of Montana.  He seems to be hoping that he can travel around the country and teach workshops a few times a year and perhaps pick up a few high end private students (people like Madonna?).  The depth of Paulie Zink's knowledge would be appreciated in any circus town, like San Francisco or Montreal.  He could live in a sound proofed apartment with a nice private garden and teach at a circus school.  The one in San Francisco already has three contortion teachers, but Zink's knowledge and open hearted generosity would be a welcome addition.  I've seen him take the most twisted up funky stretchy poses and turn them into loco-motor movement.  Elbow stands become bunny hops with a fluffy tail.  Static warrior poses become dragons skittering across the water.  I'm not kidding.  This stuff is amazing.

By the way, the best scenario for the origins of Shaolin gongfu (Kung Fu) is that 1000 years ago (early Sung Dynasty) someone who had learned this half-hermit, half-circus storytelling art of Dao Yin, was living in the Song Mountains around Shaolin Temple and offered to help out by teaching the orphans some discipline.  Most large Temples were also orphanages.  Perhaps he had given up a child to a temple many years earlier and felt guilty about it.  Meir Shahar suggests in his ground braking book Shaolin Temple, that one of the roots of Shaolin is probably Dao Yin.  He also says that martial arts heroes were already in the written literature of the time, the literature itself having grown out of theater!

Chinese culture doesn't fit into boxes.   Most likely the development of Chinese movement culture happened in a topsy-turvy, a little bit here, a little bit there kind of way.  Give a sword to a Dao Yin master and he's gonna stretch it to the limit.  He's gonna do something wild and explosive, something soft and silky, something spontaneous and never seen before.  That's the fruition of Dao Yin.  That is the physical expression of the teachings of Laozi-- our limitless nature--Daode.  (Dao= limitless unnameable nature, De=a person's unique expression of Dao.)

Dao Yin is a treasure.  The version I learned doesn't have all the circus stuff or martial arts in it.  So in some senses it is a lot easier to learn than Paulie Zink's material.  But what I learned is still a hermit practice.  In order to practice I built a dedicated elivated room in my isolated apartment.  I called it the sky palace.  When I moved, I dropped that practice.  Modern Qigong is namby pamby soft and flowery compared to Dao Yin.  The Dao Yin I learned is a little like yoga but it's noisy and rambunctious, it gives you bruises,  and must be practiced everyday with for at least 3 hours with meditation.  Zink's Dao Yin probably requires closer to 8 hours of practice a day.  Dao Yin doesn't make you feel like putting on a suit and heading to the office, it makes you feel like spontaneously doing nothing.  Perhaps it would be unfair to call it the art of disciplined fooling around, but you get the idea.

When I met Paulie Zink in LA at a workshop he was teaching,  he was traveling with a disciple who lived with him in Montana and seemed to be learning everything.  I'm very happy about that.  His disciple spoke very little.  I asked him a few questions and I had to lean in close to hear soft spoken answers delivered directly from his heart.  A natural hermit.  Paulie Zink's oldest student also came into town for the workshop.  He was very generous to me, answered questions and gave me some tips; he lives in a high desert town I'd never heard of halfway between LA and Las Vegas.  He too is a Hermit.

Here is his youtube channel.